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FCC proposal would destroy net neutrality

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The Federal Communications Commission's proposal for new net neutrality rules will allow internet service providers to charge companies for preferential treatment, effectively undermining the concept of net neutrality, according to The Wall Street Journal. The rules will allow providers to charge companies for preferential treatment so long as they offer that treatment to all interested parties on "commercially reasonable" terms, with the FCC deciding whether the terms are reasonable on a case-by-case basis. Providers will reportedly not be able to block individual websites, however.

The goal of net neutrality rules is to prevent service providers from discriminating between different content, allowing all types of data and all companies' data to be treated equally. While it appears that outright blocking of individual services won't be allowed, the Journal reports that some forms of discrimination will be allowed, though that will apparently not include slowing down websites. In response, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler issued a statement that reports of net neutrality's demise are "flat out wrong." Nonetheless, allowing some websites to pay for preferentially treatment would inherently favor larger, more successful companies.

A major change to the meaning of "open internet"

The actual draft of the proposed rules has not yet been released, but the FCC did release a framework of the rules back in February. These proposed changes, however, are a large departure from the original Open Internet rules as well as what was shown earlier this year.

An FCC spokesperson confirmed to The Verge that the proposal does include the ability for service providers to negotiate with individual companies, so long as all content is delivered at a baseline level of service. "Exactly what the baseline level of service would be, the construction of a 'commercially reasonable' standard, and the manner in which disputes would be resolved, are all among the topics on which the FCC will be seeking comment," the spokesperson said.

The commission will begin to internally circulate the rules tomorrow ahead of a vote on May 15th, after which the rules would be opened up for public comment if they pass. The FCC says that the proposed rules are meant to fulfill the goals of the 2010 Open Internet order — the neutrality-enforcing rules that were struck down in court earlier this year. It says that the proposed new rules are also consistent with the analysis of the court that initially struck its neutrality regulations down.

Though internet service providers likely aren't eager for regulation to return, neutrality advocates such as Netflix have been calling on the FCC to take action quickly, and with even broader action than before. Netflix would also like to see the rules govern the actual infrastructure for moving data, preventing service providers from charging companies fees for delivering it to their customers, but the FCC has said that it won't be doing this for now, with its rules only covering what's known as the "last mile" between providers and their customers.

Instead, the new regulations are expected to broadly resemble the earlier Open Internet rules, with one key difference that this time they'll rely on legal grounds that are believed to grant the FCC the proper authority to enforce them — though it'll still be working off of something closer to a technicality than explicit permission. The changes mentioned in the Journal would of course be major differences too, though we may not see a draft of the rules until next month. The FCC is already accepting public comments based on the framework released in February, which it should be factoring in to the upcoming draft.

This story was updated shortly after publication to include new details on the proposed regulations as well as comment from the FCC, and again later in the day to include FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's statement.

The Verge
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