FCC pushes back against criticism over Internet traffic plan

NEW YORK Thu Apr 24, 2014 6:48pm EDT

Attendees surf the internet at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California May 1, 2013. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas

Attendees surf the internet at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California May 1, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gus Ruelas

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The U.S. communications regulator on Thursday sought to tame an outcry over its plan to allow "fast lanes" for some content on the Internet, insisting that the agency will monitor and punish broadband providers that treat Web traffic "unreasonably."

The Federal Communications Commission is weighing rules that would ban Internet providers from blocking access to websites or applications, but would allow content companies to pay for faster Internet speeds delivering their traffic as long as such deals are deemed "commercially reasonable."

Consumer advocates assailed the proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, saying it would let certain content providers pay for access to fast lanes and discourage consumers from going to competitors' sites where videos or other content may load more slowly by comparison.

The five-member FCC will negotiate the rules before they vote on May 15 to formally propose them and seek public comment.

"This move is likely to favor the companies with the deepest pockets and hurt the scrappy start-ups," Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union, said in a statement.

The debate is over the principle known as open Internet or net neutrality, which establishes that owners of networks that deliver online content should treat all of that content equally.

"There are reports that the FCC is gutting the Open Internet rule. They are flat-out wrong," Wheeler said in a statement late on Wednesday. In a blog post on Thursday, he said the rules, which he intends to finalize by year-end, would not change the FCC's "underlying goals of transparency" or harm consumers.

The FCC for years has struggled to set rules that would prohibit Internet providers from restricting how consumers surf the Web but would also withstand legal challenges from broadband providers who have said they, as owners of the networks, should be able to manage them or charge for their use without what they see as regulatory overreach.

In January, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for the second time struck down the FCC's previous anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules after a challenge from Verizon Communications Inc. But the judges did affirm the agency's authority to regulate broadband, giving the FCC new legal opportunity to rewrite the rules.

It was the court's direction that guided Wheeler's proposal to allow commercially reasonable preferential treatment of traffic, senior FCC officials said on Thursday.

The agency will seek public comment before determining how to define "commercially unreasonable" behavior or a violation of "net neutrality," but it will focus on whether broadband companies' treatment of traffic hurts competitors or consumers, hurts free speech or is done in good faith, the officials said.

The FCC would have the authority to go after companies that violate the commercially reasonable standard on a case-by-case basis. The review would be prompted by formal or informal complaints as well as the FCC's own monitoring of how broadband providers treat online traffic, the officials said.

One of the ideas the FCC is considering would be to have a commission ombudsperson to monitor the industry with consumers and content providers in mind, one FCC official said.

In striking down the FCC's old rules, the court said the agency had improperly treated Internet service providers as regulated public utilities providing telecommunications services, like telephone companies, while they were actually classified as information service providers.

Consumer advocates have called on the FCC to reclassify Internet providers as more heavily regulated telecommunications services, an idea that has faced tremendous pushback from the broadband industry and Republican lawmakers who have urged the FCC to tread lightly.

Virtually all large Internet providers, such as Verizon, AT&T Inc and Time Warner Cable Inc, pledged after January's ruling to continue abiding by the principles of open Internet and have not weighed in since then.

The fees that content providers pay for faster access to their sites or applications recently grabbed the spotlight after video streaming service Netflix Inc struck a deal known as an interconnection agreement with cable provider Comcast Corp in February.

However, such deals are struck on the back end of the network that gets content from a server to the broadband network and so are outside of the scope of the FCC's net neutrality rules. The rules have only applied to deals related to traffic going over the "last mile" of broadband networks, where content moves directly to the user.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh,; Editing by Doina Chiacu, Richard Chang and Tom Brown)

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Comments (8)
Comcast already created a “fast lane” and they’re making Netflix and their customers pay for it because they’ve done such a bad job designing their network. Large numbers of people streaming video is nothing new, Comcasts infrastructure just isn’t designed to handle it.

Don’t buy into the hype, folks, these new rules are exactly what the big ISP’s want. And they want YOU to pay for it.

Contact the FCC and your local representatives to make your opinions known, the only voice we have here is when they open up for public feedback, so I suggest we make as much noise as possible.

Apr 24, 2014 2:44pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
diluded0000 wrote:
These corporate-political revolving doors are infuriating. According to Wikipedia, Tom Wheeler “worked as a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, with prior positions including President of the National Cable Television Association (NCTA)”.

Now he is hooking his previous employers up with the fat pipes to deliver content, and I would venture a guess that he will be back to the corporate sector grossing millions of bucks after he regulates a competitive advantage for the people who pay him.

Welcome to oligarchy.

Apr 24, 2014 3:29pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
willich6 wrote:
The FCC is seeking a ‘middle ground’ between complete ‘net neutrality’ and ‘pay for speed’.. The big content companies (netflix, google, etc), of course, want to push the bandwidth infrastructure cost onto the ISPs; The ISPs want to ‘meter’ everything and ‘charge by the drink’.. The courts have already ruled the true ‘net neutrality’ isn’t constitutional – so there’s going to have to be something in the middle.

This will be an evolving standard and could be OBE if eventually everything goes wireless…

Apr 24, 2014 4:02pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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