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FCC 'Open' Internet May Mean 'Paid'

Federal Communications Commission votes to consider broadband rules that could allow data fast lanes. Public invited to comment.

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The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted 3-to-2 to open a controversial Internet regulation proposal to public comment, beginning a process that might normalize paid prioritization of Internet traffic.

The proposal, put forth by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, represents an attempt to offer rules for broadband service providers that fit within existing communications laws. The agency's 2010 rules were rejected earlier this year in a legal challenge by Verizon, leaving the agency's ability to regulate Internet service providers up in the air.

As a result of the vote, the agency will accept input from the public about its proposal for the next four months.

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The FCC characterizes its Open Internet proposal as an attempt to determine the right policy to ensure that the Internet remains "open." But the proposal's contemplation of paid prioritization for network data traffic -- referred to as fast lanes for data -- has alarmed Internet companies and cyber liberties advocates who see paid prioritization as a threat to small Internet companies and as fundamentally anti-democratic.

The risk is that paid prioritization will turn the Internet into a protection racket. Without some regulatory restraint, large network providers such as Comcast might decide to demand extra fees from content delivery services like Netflix -- particularly from companies that compete in some way -- to ensure that their streaming video isn't degraded.  

Attempting to defuse the controversy surrounding the rule revision, Wheeler said that nothing in this Open Internet proposal authorizes paid prioritization. But then nothing in the proposal definitively rules it out.

Image: AOL
Image: AOL

Reaction to the proposal promises a summer of intense lobbying and disagreement. Victoria Kaplan, lead campaign director for MoveOn.org Political Action, in a statement slammed the FCC's move to consider Wheeler's proposal, which, she said, "could destroy the Internet as we know it."

George Foote, a partner at the International law firm Dorsey & Whitney who has worked with the FCC, offered a statement to the contrary, dismissing such claims. "The FCC's proposed open internet order does not threaten the

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: Ninja
5/15/2014 | 8:49:43 PM
Re: Mozilla's compromise
If less than 10 internet companies are currently accounting for 80% of internet's traffic, then shouldn't the internet to open to monetization, because I feel that these 10 or so companies do not represent 80% of the value that the internet creates. Opening it up to monetization should (at least in theory) make them pay for 80% of the internet.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/15/2014 | 5:51:30 PM
Re: "Open Internet"??
There's a lot of that going around. Mozilla, which says its mission is to defend the "open Internet," has just agreed to support DRM in Firefox. I would humbly suggest that anyone using the word "open" be required to write it thus: "open(*)"
User Rank: Apprentice
5/15/2014 | 5:08:40 PM
Re: Mozilla's compromise
I like Mozilla Proposal, it is what I'm been arguing for weeks.  A lot of people disagree with me.  It makes sense when less than 10 internet companies make up more than 80% of the internet traffic.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/15/2014 | 4:59:24 PM
"Open Internet"??
Don't you just love how government names things?  That way they can get all the support they need from lazy thinkers who just read the title.  "Open Internet?   Oh sure, I'm for that.   Everybody should be for an open internet."


I can assure you that when you appoint a cable lobbiest head of the FCC that the end result will be anything *BUT* and open internet.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/15/2014 | 4:57:48 PM
Re: Mozilla's compromise
That would probably work, because traffic on the downstream-to-consumer side can be disguised with a VPN if it starts getting throttled.  If they're allowed to manipulate the upstream-to-network side, they will shut down any services that get popular enough to make a dent in the bandwidth, with tolls precisely calculated to make them uncompetitive.
User Rank: Author
5/15/2014 | 4:26:17 PM
Mozilla's compromise
What do you think of Mozilla's proposal, readers? A smart step or not enough?
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