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New rules proposed by U.S. Communications Commission could threaten net neutrality

UPDATE: FCC hears the public outcry for net neutrality, continues to consider pay-to-play rules (EFF, 15 May 2014)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is circulating a proposal for new FCC rules on the issue of network neutrality, the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks equally. Unfortunately, early reports suggest those rules may do more harm than good.

The new rules were prompted by last January's federal court ruling rejecting the bulk of the FCC's 2010 Open Internet Order on the grounds that they exceeded the FCC's authority, sending the FCC back to the drawing board.

According to reports, Chairman Wheeler's new proposal embraces a "commercially reasonable" standard for network management. That standard could allow ISPs to charge companies for preferential treatment, such as charging web-based companies like Netflix or Amazon to reach consumers at faster speeds.

This kind of "pay to play" model would be profoundly dangerous for competition. New innovators often cannot afford to pay to reach consumers at the same speeds as well-established web companies. That means ISPs could effectively become gatekeepers to their subscribers.

The FCC issued a statement this morning [24 April 2014] that claims that the new network neutrality proposal will not allow ISPs to, "act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity." But we have no idea as to how "commercially reasonable" will actually be interpreted.

The devil will be in the details. While all we have now is a statement that a proposal for what the proposed rules might look like is being circulated in private within the FCC, the public should be poised to act. In an FCC rulemaking process, the commission issues what's called a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). After the NPRM is issued, the public is invited to comment to the FCC about how their proposal will affect the interest of the public.

The FCC is required by law to respond to public comments, so it's extremely important that we let the FCC know that rules that let ISPs pick and choose how certain companies reach consumers will not be tolerated.

The problem is that most people don't know about this extremely opaque process, and so they don't participate. Let's change that. Stay tuned. We'll let you know when it's time to raise your voice and add your testimony during the FCC's public comment window when the new proposed rules are announced.


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