On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will roll out new rules that opponents are calling the death knell of net neutrality, which is the idea that all Internet traffic should be treated the same, regardless of the kind of content delivered.
To wit: The FCC will allow broadband service providers (like Verizon and Comcast) to strike arrangements with individual companies (like Netflix and Google) for faster online access. It's being billed as an "Internet fast lane" that will allow companies to pay the toll to zoom through and stream content like YouTube videos faster.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the proposal is "likely to be viewed as an effort to find a middle ground," as the FCC teeters the fine line between keeping the Internet open while providing options for broadband providers to "explore new business models in a fast-changing marketplace." Critics, however, say the regulations will make it more difficult for new upstart companies to gain traction, allowing established and well-funded web giants like Google or Facebook to defend their premium positions. The rule, in other words, will stifle new competition.
"Giving ISPs the green light to implement pay-for-priority schemes will be a disaster for startups, nonprofits, and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls," said Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron in a statement. "These users will all be pushed onto the Internet dirt road, while deep pocketed Internet companies enjoy the benefits of the newly created fast lanes."
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable industry appointed by the Obama administration, says that reports of net neutrality's imminent demise are "flat out wrong." In a statement, the FCC wrote the following:
There are reports that the FCC is gutting the Open Internet rule. They are flat out wrong. Tomorrow we will circulate to the Commission a new Open Internet proposal that will restore the concepts of net neutrality consistent with the court's ruling in January. There is no 'turnaround in policy.' The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original Open Internet rules, and consistent with the court's decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted.
In January, a White House spokesperson said in a statement that President Obama "remains committed to an open Internet, where consumers are free to choose the websites they want to visit and the online services they want to use, and where online innovators are allowed to compete on a level playing field based on the quality of their products."
[Image: Flickr user Michael R. Perry]