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Huge blow for 'net neutrality' proponents in US communications regulator turnaround

Date

Edward Wyatt

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The US communications regulator is proposing to allow US ISPs to ask companies such as Twitter, Netflix and others to pay them money to get their services in a fast lane so consumers don't get a degraded service.

The US communications regulator is proposing to allow US ISPs to ask companies such as Twitter, Netflix and others to pay them money to get their services in a fast lane so consumers don't get a degraded service. Photo: Jessica Shapiro

Washington: The US Federal Communications Commission will propose rules that would allow internet service providers to offer a faster lane through which to send video and other content to consumers, as long as a content company was willing to pay for it, according to people briefed on the proposals.

The rules would mark a turnaround for the FCC on so-called net neutrality, the principle that internet users should have equal ability to see any content they choose and that no content providers should be discriminated against in providing their offerings to consumers.

The FCC's previous rules governing net neutrality were thrown out by a US federal appeals court this year. The court said those rules had essentially treated internet service providers as public utilities, violating a previous FCC ruling that internet links were not to be governed by the same strict regulation as telephone or electric service.

The new rules, according to the people briefed on them, would allow a US internet service provider like Comcast or Verizon to negotiate separately with each content company - like Netflix, Amazon, Disney or Google - and charge different companies different amounts for priority service.

That, of course, could increase costs for content companies, which would then have an incentive to pass on those costs to consumers.

Proponents of net neutrality have feared that such a framework would empower large, wealthy companies and prevent small start-ups that might otherwise be the next Twitter or Facebook, for example, from gaining traction in the market.

The proposals, drafted by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and his staff, will be circulated to the other four commissioners beginning on Thursday, an FCC spokeswoman said. The details could be amended by consensus in order to attract support from a majority of the commissioners. The commission would then vote on a final proposal May 15.

Net neutrality in Australia

In Australia, Telstra began trials early last year to test slowing down of certain services, such as peer-to-peer file-sharing, in peak hours.

Following the trials being made public by Fairfax Media, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission raised its eyebrows over them.

“Clearly there is a vertical integration issue where internet service providers can control what comes down their pipe and obviously if, unrelated to the reports about Telstra, we see that ISPs were using that technology to influence their own content over other content then that would be of concern to us,” Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said in February last year.

The outcome of Telstra's trials have not yet been made public.

Telstra chief executive David Thodey defended the trial at the time, calling media reports about it "a little over-hyped".

"It’s absolutely standard for most ISPs, we want to be absolutely transparent on it, there’s nothing to hide,” he said then.

New York Times and Ben Grubb

0 comment

  • And once again we see what happens when you put a lobbyist in charge of a regulatory body. Disgusting, predatory behavior by massive corporations with virtual monopolies such as Comcast, WB cable and AT&T is condoned and they get paid twice - once by the user for the connection and once by the site for not crippling it.

    Commenter
    Caser
    Date and time
    April 24, 2014, 3:58PM
    • I'm sorry, what is the point of this outside greed and power? Is there a legitimate technical reason for slowing access? Or is this just naked power finding ways to grab cash? My understanding is the poor kids will be allowed to take fewer books out of the library, less often. Or am I honestly missing something?

      Commenter
      Mike W
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 24, 2014, 4:08PM
      Comments are now closed
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