US proposal seeks to head off Internet 'fast lanes' (Update)

February 4, 2015

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC in Washington, DC, on December 11, 2014
The top US telecom regulator proposed Wednesday to regulate broadband Internet service providers as "public utility" carriers, in a renewed effort to enforce "net neutrality" rules.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled the plan which aims to prevent Internet providers from playing favorites or blocking some services or allowing others to pay for "fast lanes."

The new proposal comes a year after a federal court struck down the FCC neutrality rules, saying it lacked the authority because Internet providers were not "common carriers" under US telecom law.

The plan, which is expected to unleash a fresh legal and political battle, aims to resolve the impasse by reclassifying Internet service providers as regulated entities under the 1934 Telecommunications Act.

"The Internet must be fast, fair and open," Wheeler said in an essay in Wired magazine.

"That is the message I've heard from consumers and innovators across this nation. That is the principle that has enabled the Internet to become an unprecedented platform for innovation and human expression."

Wheeler said his plan, to be submitted to the five-member commission for a vote later this month, would call for "the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC."

He would ban "paid prioritization," which would allow services to pay for faster connections, as well as "blocking and throttling of lawful content and services."

The move comes after President Barack Obama voiced support in November for a similar plan, arguing online services that don't pay extra fees should not be in a "slow lane."

Mobile Internet, too

The Wheeler plan would reach deeper into the Internet, beyond consumer-facing offerings to "interconnection" services and allow the FCC to investigate alleged discriminatory practices at that level.

Wheeler said he would apply the rules to the mobile Internet for the first time as well.

Critics of the approach argue that the 1930s-style regulation would choke off investment in the Internet and stifle innovation.

A senior FCC official said however the move represents a "light touch" effort which uses only some segments of the 1934 law without imposing fees or other types regulation.

Wheeler pledged "no rate regulation" or tariffs and said his plans "can encourage investment and competition."

The "neutrality" rules aim to ensure that all services have equal access to the Internet, so that a provider such as Verizon or AT&T could not block a service such as Netflix and favor a rival like Hulu.

Reaction on both sides

Reaction was swift to the plan, which had generated speculation for days.

Doug Brake at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a conservative think tank, said the plan was "an unjustified, overblown response to what has in actuality been a by-and-large hypothetical concern" and warned it may "Balkanize the Internet into distinct private networks and specialized services."

But the digital rights group Access welcomed the move as a win for consumers.

"The FCC's move will be felt far beyond US borders," said Access policy counsel Peter Micek.

"Advocates around the world—from Argentina to Turkey to South Korea to the European Union—are fighting for many of the same protections as those being proposed by Wheeler."

The Internet Association, which includes Google, Facebook and Netflix, also lauded the plan.

"There is only one Internet, and users expect that they be able to access an uncensored Internet regardless of how they connect," association president Michael Beckerman said.

The new initiative comes after the January 2014 ruling by a federal appeals court which struck down the FCC's 2010 rules on net neutrality.

But even if the new proposal is adopted, a fresh legal challenge is likely.

Verizon, which filed the earlier legal challenge, quickly criticized the new Wheeler plan.

"Heavily regulating the Internet for the first time is unnecessary and counterproductive," said Verizon vice president Michael Glover.

Republican lawmakers criticized the move, saying Congress is prepared to pass its own guidelines.

Representative Greg Walden denounced the move as a "heavy-handed regulatory takeover of the Internet."

Bob Goodlatte, who heads the House Judiciary Committee, said Wheeler "overestimates the FCC's authority to rewrite our nation's communications laws—a responsibility tasked to Congress... and ignores the fact that his net neutrality rules almost certainly will be stuck in courts for years."

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2.3 / 5 (7) Feb 04, 2015
obamacare was a lie that healthcare would be socialized for people, instead it was socialized for the profiteering cartel of healthcare companies that actually wrote nearly ALL the legislation.

it was a huge profit scam the president sold to the public as a huge lie.

similarly, this so called 'public utility' legislation is being written by the biggest telecom providers, the former employers of the sitting head of the FCC , for their own benefit. the govenrnment elected representitives will sell the plan as being progressive and for the public. whereas its sole purpose is to stifle competition to serve the public and guarantee progressively rising prices for diminishing services provided by the authors of the legislation; the telecom cartel of biggest 5 providers.

anyone who thinks otherwise , hasn't done their homework. and is basically a useful idiot of someone else's propaganda they naively took at face value.
4 / 5 (4) Feb 04, 2015
It is interesting how people who are on the side of monopolies take issue with this and downplay the gravity of net neutrality and the people who are for open and free (outside of the isp fee) access to this evermore necessity of modern life.

So in other words if your the Microsoft, Google, Apple, ... of the world you can pay your way to innovate and if your a new comer u better sell out to the big guys for pennies.

Well in my over 20 years of IT I can say that there was a big stagnation in innovation when there is no new comers to the market. Take the x86 world, between 2000 to 2004 there was almost no innovation, all they did was construct smaller up the wattage and clock higher nothing else. Now with the ARM tech out look at how many companies are involved and look at all the trinkets, toys, concepts and pure innovation occurring, we would have never seen this if the wintel alliance dominated. We won't know the direction to take if all we get is one view of innovation.
3 / 5 (4) Feb 04, 2015
Teslaberry I don't believe this is socializing the internet, this allows everyone to have fair access to the bandwidth. I don't think you understand the internet enough to understand what this means. Of course the wording of any legislation often leads you down a rabbit hole you don't want to be in but as an individual with a good idea I should have the ability to compete with the big boys without having to pay millions for it.

I live in Canada and we pay more than anyone else for our access to the net and although our government has anti-competitive laws it seems we encourage monopolies. Take the Verizon coming to Canada rumor that was out a while ago, what is known as the "Big three" (Rogers, Bell and Telus) got together and created the "Fair for Canada" campaign. Strange how three competitors (who are never more than 1$ in price difference from each other and offer a whopping 10GB per month cap... yeah 21st century and we still have an F'ing cap) would band together.
1.3 / 5 (3) Feb 04, 2015
Doug Brake ... said the plan was "an unjustified, overblown response to what has in actuality been a by-and-large hypothetical concern."

He's right in that every argument for greater government regulation is predicated on a claim that isn't actually happening in the real world. I wish people actually understood that.

I understand the concern that in some potential future that some site may have their content throttled, but that potential for it is predicated on an increasing demand for data throughput on an infrastructure that may or may not be able to support it. Vendors like Hulu or Netflix don't care how much of the ISP's "pipe" they occupy (which is a ***tload when you're streaming BluRay quality video), but the ISPs very much do as it reduces the bandwidth available for other customers -thereby reducing quality of service. I don't stream much, but I can tell when everyone else in my area is, as my connection goes to hell at 5-530 every day.
1 / 5 (3) Feb 04, 2015
Very much like healthcare, there is an unlimited demand for service, but there will always be a limited throughput on any tech infrastructure. Turning it into a utility will may have the unintended consequence of negatively impacting future infrastructure investment, meaning that increased demand is met with decreased per-user service. That is how economics works, and I'm not sure that's fully appreciated by those gunning for greater regulation.
4 / 5 (3) Feb 04, 2015
The net neutrality aspects sound great but some key words were ommitted above:

"To preserve incentives for broadband operators to invest in their networks, my proposal will modernize Title II, tailoring it for the 21st century, in order to provide returns necessary to construct competitive networks. For example, there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling"

NO LAST-MILE UNBUNDLING? This is horrible. This is the opposite of "modernizing" the internet. In fact, this is *the main problem* with telecommuncations in the U.S. If you don't force these companies to compete (artificially create a market) over the infrastructure, then prices will continue to remain high and service quality low because it is a natural monopoly! And simply ending the franchise agreements granting territorial exclusivity won't solve the damn problem either (again, natural monopoly)
5 / 5 (2) Feb 04, 2015
Hulu or Netflix don't care how much of the ISP's "pipe" they occupy (which is a ***tload when you're streaming BluRay quality video), but the ISPs very much do as it reduces the bandwidth available for other customers -thereby reducing quality of service.

Then don't sell so much bandwidth to Netflix.

The ISP has built them a cable and promised to carry so much bandwidth in exchange for so much money, and if they can't meet their end of the deal without compromizing other customers, then it's the ISP's fault and not Netflix's.

That's the point of net neutrality - it's ultimately to stop ISPs from selling much more than they can actually deliver, and then extorting their customers for more money to route them around the congestion.

There's no incentive for them to improve the actual infrastructure when they can use the lack of bandwidth to create artifical scarcity and a new market for premiums in content delivery.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 04, 2015
Turning it into a utility will may have the unintended consequence of negatively impacting future infrastructure investment, meaning that increased demand is met with decreased per-user service.

That's what should have happened years ago. The ISPs have neglected investments in infrastructure for years, yet continued to sell more and more bandwidth in full knowledge that they can't meet the rising demand. This has allowed them to expand fast and buy off their smaller rivals and monopolize large areas.

Now that the demand is catching up, the ISPs are turning to throttling content and shifting the cost of any new investments onto the content producers instead of the content consumers to maintain artifically low subscriber prices, again so no new competitor can set foot in their areas.

Forcing net neutrality breaks up the monopolies because the long-neglected costs come due payment and subscriber prices have to go up, allowing competition again.
5 / 5 (1) Feb 04, 2015
The immediate effect of net neutrality is of course that subscriber speeds go down and prices go up, because the ISPs won't back down their profit margins as long as they have a monopoly in your area. They'll make you pay through the nose to improve their infrastructure against competition before the competition actually arrives.

But after the competition does arrive, the prices will quickly drop to keep them out.
not rated yet Feb 04, 2015
Speaking as an ex-isp, the majority of the opinions posted here to date are exercises of political/philosophical expression rather than fact based judgements.

Unbundling the last mile would be terrific, it's true, but hey this is a great place to start from.

Thanks Mr. Wheeler!
not rated yet Feb 05, 2015
I pay for 50Mbs internet and when isp's throttle netflix they are cheating me out of the speed I paid for. They get away with it because technically they did not guarantee me 50Mbs all the time, but intentionally cutting the speed of the connection is still cheating me. Its a fraud.
not rated yet Feb 05, 2015
There are no fucking fast lanes because the speed of light is constant. Carriers can only obstruct or block traffic High priority traffic such as voice needs small bandwidth so all communications can fit in a few fibers. Large bandwidth pipes do not need <10ms latency so if voice is being obstructed, the network engineer is incompetent

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