The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler has confirmed reports that proposed changes to internet governance will abandon net neutrality principles and says companies can charge extra for some types of traffic so long as it's "commercially reasonable."
"There are reports that the FCC is gutting the Open Internet rule. They are flat out wrong. Tomorrow we will circulate to the Commission a new Open Internet proposal that will restore the concepts of net neutrality consistent with the court's ruling in January," he said in a statement.
"There is no 'turnaround in policy.' The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original Open Internet rules, and consistent with the court's decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted."
In a blog post entitled "Setting the record straight," Wheeler said that the new rules wouldn't change "the underlying goals of transparency, no blocking of lawful content, and no unreasonable discrimination among users established by the 2010 Rule."
Crucially, however, Wheeler has conceded the principle of commercial pricing of internet access for certain kinds of content. Wheeler said January's appeal court verdict found that the FCC could only regulate if pricing was found to be not "commercially reasonable," and that the FCC's own regulations state that "unjust and unreasonable discrimination" is a no-no.
Just what constitutes commercially unreasonable behavior will be decided on a case-by-case basis by the five-member panel of the FCC, and Wheeler said the agency would protect consumers from "abusive market activity."
An FCC official told The Reg that Wheeler will present the new policy to his fellow commissioners on Friday in what's formally known as a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). This will go to a vote of the FCC commissioners on May 15, after which public comment will be invited before the final rules for commercialization of bandwidth are decided and voted upon.
“The purpose of the NPRM is plain: To end the Commission’s decade-long quest for legally-enforceable rules that will protect and promote the Internet as a platform for economic growth, innovation, competition, free expression, and broadband investment and deployment," the official said.
"The proposed rules fulfill the goals of the 2010 Open Internet Order. They propose to enhance the transparency rule that is in effect, re-institute the ‘no-blocking’ rule and create a new legal standard for assessing whether conduct threatens an Open Internet. The purpose of the Chairman is plain: to protect a free and open Internet as a level-playing field for all Americans.”
There are quite a lot of people who don’t see it that way.
"The FCC is inviting ISPs to pick winners and losers online. The very essence of a 'commercial reasonableness' standard is discrimination. And the core of net neutrality is non discrimination," said Michael Weinberg, VP of internet advocacy group Public Knowledge.
"This is not net neutrality. This standard allows ISPs to impose a new price of entry for innovation on the Internet." ®