New rules reportedly under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission would allow Internet service providers to offer speedier connections to certain content companies, a move that could potentially upend the “net neutrality” standard that has governed Internet traffic for decades.
The proposed rules would prevent the service providers from blocking or discriminating against specific websites, but would allow broadband providers to give some traffic preferential treatment, so long as such arrangements are available on "commercially reasonable" terms for all interested content companies. Whether the terms are commercially reasonable would be decided by the FCC on a case-by-case basis. Companies such as Skype or Netflix that offer phone or video services that rely on broadband connections could take advantage of such arrangements by paying the broadband providers to ensure that their traffic reaches consumers without disruption. Those companies would be paying for preferential treatment on the "last mile" of broadband networks that connects directly to consumers' homes. The proposal does not address the separate issue of back-end interconnection or peering between content providers and broadband networks.
The move comes after a January appeals court ruling that found the FCC improperly treated broadband providers as public utilities, violating a previous ruling by the commission.
Mother Jones tech reporter Kevin Drum weighed in on the revelations:
So Google and Microsoft and Netflix and other large, well-capitalized incumbents will pay for speedy service. Smaller companies that can't--or that ISPs just aren't interested in dealing with--will get whatever plodding service is left for everyone else. ISPs won't be allowed to deliberately slow down traffic from specific sites, but that's about all that's left of net neutrality. Once you've approved the notion of two-tier service, it hardly matters whether you're speeding up some of the sites or slowing down others.
Others say the new rules will foster innovation and bring about “Web 3.0.”
The FCC will vote on the new rules at its regularly scheduled May 15 meeting, though the proposal is subject to public comment and may be amended in the meantime.