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Net Neutrality Debate

The basic principle that all internet content ought to be treated equally looks like it’s about to be replaced. Back at the end of April, the Federal Communications Commission said that it would propose new rules that allow companies like Disney, Netflix or Google to pay internet service providers, such as Comcast and Verizon for special, faster lanes to send video and other content to their customers. The fear is that the commission’s new rules might create a “fast lane” on the internet for companies willing and able to pay for it.

Last month, FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, said he would aim to get a new set of proposed Open Internet rules before the commission at a May 15 meeting. The commission would then vote on whether to put the proposal out for public comment before adopting a final version.

Broadband companies have long been pushing for the right to build special lanes to accommodate high-volume clients. Verizon has commented during appeals court agreements that if it could make those kind of deals, it would.

Under this new proposal, broadband providers would have to disclose how they treat all internet traffic and on what terms they offer more rapid lanes, and would be required to act “in a commercially reasonable manner,” according to agency officials. This standard would be better defined as the agency seeks public comment.

The proposal would also require internet service providers to disclose whether in assigning faster lanes, they have favored their affiliated companies that provide content. This could have some significant implications for Comcast, the largest provider of high-speed internet in the US, since it owns NBCUniversal.

Backlash

In response, tens of thousands of individuals, companies, interest groups and others have visited with or written to the FCC regarding the topic, most of them opposing any sort of paid access that might cause some internet content to be favored over others. Opponents of these new rules say that the proposal appears to be full of problems, particularly in seeking to impose the “commercially reasonable” standard.

According to Michael Weinberg, VP at consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, “The very essence of a ‘commercial reasonableness’ standard is discrimination. And the core of net neutrality is nondiscrimination.”

Over 100 tech giants, such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon, have also written to US telecom regulators to oppose the new “net neutrality” plan that would regulate how internet providers manage web traffic. The FCC’s rules would allow US internet providers to charge content providers for priority access to customers, provided the agreement is commercially reasonable.

The debate over net neutrality has gone on for at least a decade. It’s likely to continue until the FCC settles on new rules. Each of the last two times the agency has written rules, one of the internet service provides has taken it to court to have the rules invalidated.

Lobbying over the details of the new net neutrality standard is likely to increase now that the federal court has set out a framework for the FCC to work from as it fills in the specifics of its regulatory authority.

The FCC’s proposed rules have been circulated to the agency’s other four commissioners on May 8, and will be released for public comment on May 15. They will likely be put to a vote by the full commission by the end of the year.

However, one of the other Democratic members of the commission cautions against rushing. According to Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel,

“While I recognize the urgency to move ahead and develop rules with dispatch, I think the greater urgency comes in giving the American public opportunity to speak right now, before we head down this road. I believe that rushing headlong into a rulemaking… fails to respect the public response to this proposal.”

Summary

The FCC announced late April that it was set to propose new rules to allow tech giants to have access to faster lanes through which to send content to their customers. These regulations could significantly reshape how internet content will be delivered to consumers. The new set of proposed Open Internet rules would be presented before the commission at a May 15 meeting.

CIPP Exam Preparation

In preparation for the Certified Information Privacy Professional/Information Technology (CIPP/IT) a privacy professional should be comfortable with topics related to this post, including:

  • Implementing technologies with privacy impacts (VI.)
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