The Federal Communications Commission could allow US ISPs to charge for priority traffic
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to charge certain companies higher fees for the amount of Internet traffic they consume, as part of new proposed ‘Net Neutrality’ rules.
According to the Financial Times, the draft of the regulation has already been distributed to commissioners, and the FCC is expected to vote on the proposals in the middle of May.
This is the third attempt to tackle the controversial subject – the FFC previously opposed extra charges being levied on companies like Netflix or YouTube, but has had to revise its position following legal action from US telecom firms.
In 2011, the FCC passed Net Neutrality rules designed to keep the Internet free and prevent service providers from blocking each others’ business, but in January, a lawsuit by Verizon brought a ruling that the US telecoms regulator cannot force ISPs to treat all traffic equally – a decision widely criticised by freedom of speech campaigners.
The FCC said at the time it would propose a new set of rules rather than try and appeal the decision. Meanwhile, Netflix went ahead and struck a deal with Comcast, a major US Internet provider, to make sure its customers are able to stream video in HD quality.
As part of the new rules, ISPs will be able to charge major content providers for treating their traffic as a priority, resulting in higher connection speeds for some customers. However, this would only be done on “commercially reasonable” terms.
The FCC still plans to prohibit discrimination or blocking of websites, and require ISPs to be more transparent about the ways they manage traffic. The regulator has not fully explained what constitutes “reasonable” terms, and the draft is likely to go through another set of changes following a public consultation in the summer.
The FCC decision could have implications for the UK, with the Open Rights Group (ORG) warning that the proposed legislation could damage the ability of British businesses to compete in the US.
“If the leaked proposals are true, they would effectively end Net Neutrality,” said Jim Killock, the executive director of the ORG. “If US ISPs allow companies to pay for a fast lane to consumers, it could prevent small businesses and start-ups from competing on the same terms as large corporations. This will both deter innovation and deny consumers choice.”
The EU parliament recently approved plans to enshrine Net Neutrality in European law, but they have to be adopted by individual member states. “The FCC should look at European legislation supporting neutrality as an emerging global standard, rather than undermining Internet competition in the USA,” added Killock.
What do you know about Internet censorship? Take our quiz!