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Net neutrality activists are up in arms over a set of proposed rules that would give broadband providers the green light to charge companies a premium for access to faster Internet access. The proposal was developed by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler as a compromise between keeping the Internet an open environment while preventing ISPs like Comcast from blocking or throttling certain types of traffic.
You may recall the recent spat between Netflix and Comcast in which subscribers of both services were caught in the middle. Since Netflix consumes so much bandwidth and accounts for a large portion of Internet traffic, it was believed by many that Comcast began throttling Netflix streams, especially during peak hours (Comcast denies this). Comcast wanted Netflix to pay a premium for unfettered access into homes, and while the two were caught in a standoff, Comcast subscribers logging into Netflix experienced frequent buffering, a degradation in video quality, and even service dropouts.
Netflix eventually agreed to pay what it considers an Internet toll and inked a multi-year agreement with Comcast to ensure its traffic has direct access into homes. In essence, the FCC's proposed rules sides with Comcast and says this practice is perfectly acceptable.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, ISPs could give preferential treatment to traffic from some content providers if the arrangements are available on "commercially reasonable" terms for all parties involved. That's a bit vague, perhaps on purpose, as the FCC would decide these things on a case-by-case basis.
"The FCC is inviting ISPs to pick winners and losers online," Michael Weinberg, a vice president at Public Knowledge, stated in an email to PCWorld. "The very essence of a 'commercial reasonableness' standard is discrimination. And the core of net neutrality is nondiscrimination. This is not net neutrality."
Similar sentiments are shared by net neutrality activists far and wide. Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron told PCWorld "the FCC is aiding and abetting the largest ISPs in their efforts to destroy the open Internet." To be fair, that's not the FCC's intent, but one thing the proposal fails to touch on is how the costs of dedicated pipes gets passed on to the consumer. Is it any coincidence that Netflix is raising its prices for new members by $1 to $2 following its multi-year agreement with Comcast? Probably not.
If the FCC's proposal ticks you off, you'll have a chance to voice your concern. The FCC will circulate the propose on Thursday followed by a vote to move forward with the proposal at its May 15 meeting. In the meantime, you can write, call, or email your local representatives to let them know how you feel about the proposal. You can also add your name to a petition that's already over 1 million signatures long.
Image Credit: Flickr (Blaise Alleyne)