FCC Clarifies its Plan to Allow Preferential Broadband Service

by Matt Klassen on April 25, 2014

Misinformation, knuckling under to industry pressure, desperately trying to save face: While the individual faces may have changed at the Federal Communications Commission it always comforting to know that some things in the ongoing Net Neutrality fight will always stay the same.

On Wednesday news was leaked regarding the FCC’s forthcoming draft of its Open Internet regulations, a draft that would notably allow for broadband providers to establish fast and slow lanes, ostensibly charging a premium to companies and customers for access to faster Internet service. As an FCC spokesman explained, the rules will propose “that broadband providers would be required to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers, along with the ability to enter into individual negotiations with content providers.” Supporters of Net Neutrality were not happy with the news, to say the least.

On Thursday, before any draft was released, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler posted a blog titled, “Setting the record straight on the FCC’s Open Internet rules.” In the post Wheeler noted that clarification was needed regarding the “”great deal of misinformation that has recently surfaced,” a reference to the Wednesday reports citing the freedom for providers to impose preferential service. The clarification, of course, did little to actually clear up the confusion, leaving me to believe that tiered Internet service is right around the corner.

The concern over paid preferential service is that not only will it harm competition, favouring the larger providers over the smaller, but that it defies the very nature of a free and open Internet: accessible for all, equal for all.

Imaging paying more for your home telephone service (if such a thing even exists anymore) with promises that the more expensive plan would mean more consistent call connection, better voice clarity, and more reliable access to emergency services. For traditional regulated telecommunications, you pay your bill, you get the service. It is exactly this sort of fight that is taking place in the Net Neutrality debate, and I, among many, think its high time similar regulations were imposed upon the Internet.

While we await official word from the FCC what its latest proposal will look like (its unclear whether the report released today amongst the FCC members will in fact be released to the public at the same time) it should be noted that Wheeler has gone out of his way to maintain the Commission’s commitment to upholding the cornerstones of Net Neutrality:

  1. That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network;
  2. That no legal content may be blocked; and
  3. That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.

Of course the debate will now rage over exactly what a “commercial reasonable” action is by a broadband provider, for while Wheeler maintains that providers cannot grant favoured access to an affiliated entity, there is nothing that says it can’t charge customers for such a privilege. Further, while language exists about blocking traffic, there is nothing about throttling it, a longstanding concern for Net Neutrality supporters.

In the end I find myself as I always do in this debate, hoping, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the FCC will find a way to not screw this up, as for once it has stumbled on a worthy and necessary cause.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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