FCC Updates Net Neutrality, But Keeps “Speed-For-Pay”

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US regulator publishes yet another draft of the controversial rules as it navigates between the interests of ISPs, Internet businesses and consumers

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has once again revised its stance on Net Neutrality – the idea that all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all traffic equally.

According to the Wall Street Journal, new regulations drafted by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler keeps the provisions under which businesses can pay ISPs to get their content delivered faster, but adds clarification on what FCC means under “commercially reasonable” terms. The document also claims to offer more protection to consumers and young companies.

The new draft attempts to address issues that caused a backlash against the previous version of the regulation, published in April.

An unnamed FCC official noted that even if the draft passes the Thursday vote, it will still be subject to a public consultation that will take a further look at “paid prioritisation” agreements. Whether broadband should be considered a utility will also be up for a debate.

The current US legislation does not prevent ISPs from blocking or slowing down traffic towards certain websites.

Decisions, decisions

In 2011, the FCC passed Net Neutrality rules designed to keep the Internet free and prevent service providers from blocking each others’ business. However this January, a lawsuit by Verizon brought a ruling that the US telecoms regulator cannot force ISPs to treat all traffic on equal terms – an outcome widely criticised by freedom of speech campaigners.

internetThe FCC said at the time it would propose a new set of rules rather than try and appeal this decision.

In April, the watchdog published the draft rules which seemed to indicate that Net Neutrality was no longer on the agenda. The document banned ISPs from slowing down traffic towards individual websites, but also enabled them to take money in exchange for prioritising traffic from certain sources – most likely video content providers like YouTube or Netflix – the so-called “speed for pay” provision.

Critics of the April draft said it would have stifled domestic competition and could have had a negative impact on European companies that wish to enter the US market.

The new draft includes language that signals the FCC will evaluate every particular traffic prioritisation deal to make sure it doesn’t put non-paying companies at a disadvantage. It also proposes a new ombudsman position with “significant enforcement authority” to advocate on behalf of start-ups.

On Thursday, this document will be put to a vote. If the draft is approved, the FCC will open a public consultation, seeking views on whether such “pay-for-speed” deals should be allowed, and whether broadband connections should be considered a utility – something that would invite more regulation from the FCC.

The EU parliament recently approved plans to enshrine Net Neutrality in European law, but they have to be adopted by individual member states.

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