The Federal Communications Commission approved a proposal today for new open Internet regulation rules in a mixed 3-2 vote.
The new rules could drastically change the nature of the Internet, as Internet Service Providers like Verizon are now permitted to charge data intensive companies like Netflix for access to a “fast lane” in order to get improved reliability and quality of their service.
While many have pointed out that any instance of a “fast lane” would mean by default that all other traffic operates within a “slow lane,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler firmly denied that would be the case.
“Nothing in this proposal today authorizes paid prioritization, despite what has been incorrectly stated,” Wheeler said during the meeting. “Personally, I don’t like the idea that the Internet could be divided into haves and have-nots. And I will work to see that does not happen.”
Under the new open Internet rules, ISPs will have to ensure a minimum level of quality for the service provided to users. That will likely be the “advertised” speed and data cap that is listed on the service at the time of signing up, based on Wheeler’s explanations.
Beyond that, ISPs just wouldn’t be able to do anything that could be considered “commercially unreasonable” — which is to say, they can’t do anything that isn’t being done to legitimately and reasonably grow the business without harming competition. For this to work, ISPs will have to be forthcoming on exactly how they manage traffic delivery over their networks — something that will also be difficult for the FCC to keep track of.
That’s something other FCC commissioners said would invite tons of unnecessary regulation by the agency and could lead to far worse consequences for the open Internet. For instance, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said during today’s open meeting that he fears eventual deregulation of ISPs if the FCC’s plans don’t pan out.
There is certainly plenty of opposition to the new rules, but the FCC is inviting public comment, which it will hear in June, from anyone who would like the agency to reconsider the issue.