The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted in favor of advancing a proposal that could dramatically reshape the way consumers experience the Internet, opening the possibility of Internet service providers charging Web sites for higher-quality delivery of their content to American consumers.
The plan, approved in a three-to-two vote along party lines, could unleash a new economy on the Web where an Internet service provider such as Verizon would charge a Web site such as Netflix for faster video streaming. The proposal would, though, prohibit telecom firms from outright blocking Web sites.
The plan is not a final rule, but the vote on Thursday is a significant step forward on a controversial idea that has invited fierce opposition from consumer advocates, Silicon Valley heavyweights, and Democratic lawmakers. The FCC will now open the proposal to a total 120 days of public comment. Final rules, aimed for the end of the year, could be rewritten after the agency reviews the public comments.
Critics of the plan, as it stands now, worry that it would mark the end of net neutrality, the principle that says that all content online should be treated equally by Internet service providers.
After weeks of public outcry over the proposal, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency would not allow for unfair, or “commercially unreasonable,” business practices. He wouldn’t accept, for instance, practices that leave a consumer with slower downloads of some Web sites than what the consumer paid for from their Internet service provider.
Wheeler moved forward with a proposal that could allow new business arrangements between Internet service providers–such as AT&T, Verizon and Time Warner Cable–and Web content providers, such as Facebook, Google and online startups for preferential treatment online. But he also asked whether such deals should be banned outright.
“There is one Internet. It must be fast, it must be robust, and it must be open,” Wheeler said. “The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable.”
The prospect of telecom companies cutting deals with content providers has drawn fierce criticism from investors, startups and big Silicon Valley firms. They say smaller companies that can’t afford to pay for faster delivery would likely face additional obstacles against bigger rivals. And consumers could see a trickle-down effect of higher prices as Web sites try to pass along new costs of doing business with Internet service providers.
Source: The Washington Post | CECILIA KANG