Reports of the open Internet’s death have been greatly exaggerated, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler insists.
The Federal Communications Commission today will propose changes to the agency’s rules on net neutrality, which is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. As we wrote yesterday — and as Internet activists swiftly blasted — unnamed sources told the Wall Street Journal and New York Times that the proposed update to the FCC’s 2010 rules include a thumbs up for online service and content providers to pay ISPs for smoother and faster delivery of their offerings. Essentially, the creation of a faster lane for certain types of traffic, which doesn’t jibe with equality or neutrality.
But Wheeler says it isn’t so, that the reports “are flat out wrong.” In a post on the FCC’s website, he says the proposal calls for Internet service providers to be transparent about their policies, and “that ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.”
So let’s get this straight by using a timely, real-world example: Comcast proclaims that it’s charging Netflix so customers can stream offerings such “House of Cards” online without hiccups, but the cable and broadband provider says it’s still committed to an open Internet because the direct connection it now has with Netflix bypasses other network traffic. It’s loud, proud and transparent about creating a fast lane — which to use sounds an awful lot like “favoring traffic.” That’s not unreasonable, right?
But then we look ahead to the inevitability of other ISPs (which already charge their customers for Internet access, of course) asking the Netflixes of the world to pay them, too. And all of a sudden network traffic is not equal, tech companies’ content and services aren’t going through the same pipes, and the Internet as we’ve known it becomes a different — and far from open — place.
“This is a fundamental reorientation of the way the Internet has always worked, and would undermine its use for free expression and innovation by making it harder to start a new website or a company or organization that relies on the web,” Internet activism group Demand Progress said in a statement. Again: That’s not “commercially unreasonable,” right? Wheeler’s got some more explaining to do.
Illustration from Orlando Sentinel/MCT archives