FCC approves net neutrality proposal but paves the way for paid “fast lanes”

BY Sarah McHaney  May 15, 2014 at 6:01 PM EDT

Photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg

Photo by Jin Lee/Bloomberg


Should all legal information on the internet be treated equally? Or is there room for broadband providers to charge clients such as Netflix and YouTube for faster service?

The Federal Communications Commission has been grappling with these questions. In a 3-to-2 vote, the FCC has promised to maintain an open Internet by prohibiting any blocking of or discrimination against legal content by Internet service providers. However, the proposal would also allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed “fast lane,” or prioritized access, through ISPs.

“There is one Internet. It must be fast, it must be robust, and it must be open,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said during the vote today. “The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable.”

Wheeler also stressed that Internet providers must provide the speed the consumer purchased.

“If a network operator slowed the speed of service below that which the consumer bought, it would be commercially unreasonable and therefore prohibited,” Wheeler said. “If the network operator blocked access to lawful content, it would violate our no-blocking rule and therefore be doubly prohibited.”

The issue of net neutrality — coined in 2003 to describe an equal Internet — has been hotly debated recently with large companies on either side. Broadcast providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast argue that without the extra revenue from charging for fast lanes they cannot research and create faster internet connections. On the other side, content providers argue that start-ups or smaller companies won’t be able to compete with Amazon, Netflix, YouTube and other content providers who can afford the faster lanes. These large content providers have also said a higher price tag will fall on consumers as they offset the extra cost.

This proposal, however, is not final and is open to public comments for 120 days. Afterward, the FCC will present its new regulations.