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FCC fails to clarify new net neutrality plans

FCC fails to clarify new net neutrality plans

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has just published a blog post that expands on a statement he gave last night on the topics of net neutrality and an open internet. Earlier yesterday, The Wall Street Journal issued a troubling report alleging that the FCC will soon propose new rules that effectively spell the end of net neutrality. Wheeler came out hard against that notion last night, and he continues to refute the doomsday scenario today. Despite his best efforts, Wheeler's words won't do much to calm the storm.

"There has been a great deal of misinformation that has recently surfaced regarding the draft Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that we will today circulate to the Commission," he says. "The Notice does not change the underlying goals of transparency, no blocking of lawful content, and no unreasonable discrimination among users established by the 2010 Rule." Wheeler's goal is to have enforceable Open Internet rules in place by the end of 2014.

"Limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted."

"To be very direct, the proposal would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the internet will not be permitted." But here again, Wheeler carefully steps around a major aspect of the Journal's report, which claims that under the proposed rules, internet providers will be able to charge companies for speedier access to consumers. A so-called internet "fast lane" will allegedly be permitted so long as ISPs charge "commercially reasonable" rates.

The big question is what the FCC considers to be reasonable. Right now, the commission doesn't have a final answer. "We don't know," a spokesperson said today. "We want to have a broad public debate. We want to know how people are affected in their daily life. We want to know how businesses are being affected. We want to know if innovation is being affected." Based on that statement, the FCC seems aware that this "pay for access" aspect could bring on some trouble. But the FCC won't eliminate the idea entirely. "After all, a prioritized connection for a heart monitor may be a good thing at home without harming anyone else." But even this positive example falls apart quickly because traffic prioritization for any service means some level of discrimination for everyone else.

Wheeler closes his blog post by outlining 3 principles that the new rules seek to protect. First, ISPs must "transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network." Second, no legal content can be blocked at the ISP level. And finally, Wheeler insists the new rules will forbid service providers from acting "in an unreasonable manner to harm the internet," and that's said to include favoring traffic from an "affiliated entity" or business partner. Public debate will prove crucial in steering the conversation from here, so now's the time to make your voice heard.

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