FCC to propose Internet 'fast lanes'

The Federal Communications Commission is considering new net neutrality rules that would allow Internet providers to charge content companies like Neflix for faster speeds, according to multiple reports.

Earlier this year, a federal court struck down the agency's net neutrality rules, which had kept Internet providers like Verizon and Comcast from slowing or blocking access to certain websites.

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While the rules' proponents said the rules kept the Internet open, Internet providers, led by Verizon, who brought the suit against the FCC, said the agency's order kept them from finding the most innovative ways to manage network traffic. 

After the court decision, the FCC's chairman pledged to rewrite the rules.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing rules that would prohibit Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain sites but would allow them to strike "commercially reasonable" deals with websites to improve users' access to those sites.

The FCC would evaluate those deals on a case-by-case basis, according to the report.

Wheeler denied late Wednesday that the FCC would be "gutting" net neutrality in its draft order.

In a statement, he said reports about the commission's plans "are flat out wrong."

The proposal set to be circulated on Thursday "will restore the concepts of net neutrality consistent with the court's ruling in January," he said. 

"There is no 'turnaround in policy,' " Wheeler added. "The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original Open Internet rules, and consistent with the court's decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted."

Net neutrality advocates have already come out against Weeler's reported plans.

Through its rules, "the FCC is inviting ISPs to pick winners and losers online," Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, said in a statement.

"The very essence of a 'commercial reasonableness' standard is discrimination. And the core of net neutrality is non discrimination," he said.

"This is not net neutrality."

Free Press President Aaron Craig called the plan "short-sighted" and said it came from "a moment of political cowardice."

"The FCC apparently doesn't realize the dangerous incentives these rules would create," Craig said, arguing the rules would encourage Internet providers to congest their networks so that Internet companies will pay for better access to subscribers.

Craig repeated his calls on the agency to reclassify Internet providers so they can be more heavily regulated.

"We urge Chairman Wheeler's colleagues not to support this item as currently drafted and demand nothing less than real net neutrality," he said.

—This story was updated at 10:55 p.m. 

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