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FCC Tweaks Net Neutrality Proposal

Facing pressure from critics, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler adjusts his broadband regulation proposal. But look at what's still on the table.

Google's 10 Big Bets On The Future
Google's 10 Big Bets On The Future
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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has adjusted his proposal for regulating broadband Internet service to include a commitment that the agency will seek to prevent network providers from striking in pay-for-performance deals that put non-paying providers at a disadvantage.

The change follows objections to Wheeler's plan raised last week by more than 100 prominent Internet companies and two of the five FCC commissioners. The FCC has to draft new rules governing broadband providers, because a court rejected regulations put into place in 2010.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Wheeler's revised proposal would prevent broadband providers from slowing down online content but would continue to allow them to speed it up, through contractual arrangements for faster delivery.

However, slowing online content becomes unnecessary if the network provider simply offers insufficient bandwidth for specific applications, such as video streaming. If Netflix finds its videos are streaming in the equivalent of standard definition, and a competitor pays extra to ensure its videos can be viewed in high definition, Netflix presumably would have to strike a similar deal to remain competitive.

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The revised draft of Wheeler's rules reportedly seeks comment about whether "paid prioritization" should be banned and whether the broadband service should be regulated like a public utility, a classification that network providers have resisted on the grounds that it would hamper investment and stifle innovation. But seeking comment doesn't alter the proposal's basic endorsement of paid prioritization deals.

US Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) last month criticized Wheeler's initial proposal as misguided in a letter sent to the FCC chairman. "I am deeply disappointed that you are considering rules that would allow deep-pocketed companies to pay for preferential access to Internet Service Providers," Franken wrote in his letter. "Pay-to-play deals are an affront to net neutrality and have no place in an online marketplace that values competition and openness."

Franken expressed concern that endorsing Internet "fast lanes" would harm small businesses and raise costs for consumers.

Last week, Mozilla attempted to offer a middle ground, a proposal to recognize two distinct commercial relationships: "local delivery," the relationship between ISPs and consumers, and "remote delivery," the relationship between ISPs and Internet services, such as Netflix or an individual's website.

Mozilla has asked the FCC to reclassify remote delivery so that it falls under Title II of the Communications Act. This would allow the FCC to leave content services relatively free of regulation and to focus more on maintaining a level playing field for telecommunications services.

Wheeler's proposal has not yet been made public, but a revised draft reportedly could be circulated on Monday. If calls for a delay to accommodate further input go unheeded, the FCC is expected to begin the process of adopting its new rules with the release of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on May 15.

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Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Author
5/12/2014 | 3:57:58 PM
Netflix example
The FCC's proposed tweak leaves a lot of wiggle room, as your Netflix example shows, Tom. Readers, does this tweak change your opinion on the competitive outlook?
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/12/2014 | 4:03:05 PM
Re: Netflix example
I think Mozilla's proposal would be a good start. We may be stuck with some form of paid prioritization because networking arrangements are not as simple as the debate suggests. If only network owners were banned from being in the content business.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/12/2014 | 4:06:37 PM
Re: Netflix example
If only people weren't such greedy bastards...
User Rank: Apprentice
5/12/2014 | 4:18:27 PM
Re: Netflix example
This tweak changes nothing. We seem to have collectively forgotten, or at least the FCC has forgotten, that ISPs are using OUR public land for their rights-of-way, OUR telephone poles for their lines, and OUR grant of monopoly access, conferred by US, COLLECTIVELY. Now they want to use all this FREE STUFF to charge us (indirectly) for delivering the very service that we subsidized them to build out.

It is a colossal failure of government, akin to recreating the AT&T monopoloy of yesteryear. I remember crappy long distance phone service and the wagonloads of money we pumped into AT&T's coffers; the FCC seems to have forgotten.

User Rank: Apprentice
5/12/2014 | 4:47:24 PM
Wheeler Misleads the Public
No surprises here. Wheeler is making a feeble attempt to disguise his efforts to put an end to Net Neutrality. He is even more devious than was first apparent. Shameful behavior for a so-called servant of the people. He is still nothing but a shill for the big ISPs. How stupid does he think we are?
User Rank: Author
5/12/2014 | 4:48:46 PM
Re: Netflix example
Interesting to see the backlash -- and virtual protests -- taking shape from bloggers like this one from NeoCities...

...who offers code that promises to "throttle all connections from the FCC to 28.8kbps modem speeds on the front site. --  and I'm not removing it until the FCC pays us for the bandwidth they've been wasting instead of doing their jobs protecting us from (what he calls) the "keep America's internet slow and expensive forever" lobby.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/12/2014 | 5:03:18 PM
Best New Internet Speed/Net Neutrality Plan For Everyone!!!
Under my plan, no one is faster than anyone else.  There could be some sites, however, that might be slower than everyone else though. What that means is small or new users, which use negligible bandwidth would automatically be the fastest tier.  If particular throughput thresholds are hit by other sites then they would be slowed down by a predetermined factor. To get back to the fastest tier, they would have to pay a predetermined amount.  In this way the small entrepreneur would always be safeguarded and have the fastest speeds and those that "abuse" the bandwidth would have to pay to get back to speed.  This would seem to protect new ventures and have the big boys pay their fair share to make the internet operate as smoothly as possible without the whole burden being on Network providers. The beauty of this plan is that you can't pay to be faster than anyone else.  That's where the greed and corruption come in.......

User Rank: Ninja
5/12/2014 | 7:39:04 PM
Re: Netflix example
Not really. It will result in similar conditions in the end. We need, in this country, to decide what Internet piles are. Are they airwaves that must be open to all, or are they simply owned by the companies who lay them down? In France, a law was recently passed that for it's exactly what wheeler wants to do here. Good for them! Wheeler is operating much more like a conservitive appointee than a liberal one. It's time the Lresident gets involved in this and shuts it down.
User Rank: Ninja
5/13/2014 | 10:06:12 AM
hamper investment and stifle innovation
Every time anyone suggests doing anything some company doesn't like their response is always this will "hamper investment and stifle innovation". Well if that were truly the case then by now there would be no investment or innovation left in this country. Gosh I get tired of the same old buzzword excuses. Personally I donít know which side of this is right and I suspect in the end whichever way it goes all of the people will continue to get their video and other content because all of the companies will continue to invest and innovate, at least to the extent that they really invest and innovate today as opposed to just paying big bonuses to their executives.
User Rank: Ninja
5/13/2014 | 10:42:22 AM
Meet the new Proposal
Same as the old Proposal?

Sounds like it to me.
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