In a move that could undermine the principles of net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission will propose new rules Thursday to allow online companies to pay Internet service providers a premium to send videos and other content to consumers through its fastest lines.
The proposed rules are expected to mark a complete reversal in the commission's position on net neutrality, The Wall Street Journal
reports. The theory is that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and that no content provider should be discriminated against in its ability to offer its products to users.
Under the proposed new rules
, broadband providers would be able to charge more to companies that want speedier online delivery of games, videos, and other content. The increased costs to the content company would most likely be passed on to consumers via subscription services.
The rules were developed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the Journal reports, and mark the commission's third attempt at implementing an open Internet policy. The D.C. federal appellate court threw out the FCC's last two efforts after challenges from Internet providers, most recently in January.
The changes seek to keep large Internet providers — Comcast and Verizon, among them — from slowing down or blocking individual websites. The goal is to allow consumers access to the content of their choice.
But the proposed rules would allow the Internet companies to negotiate a fee with such content providers as Netflix or Google, for instance, so that they could provide their products to consumers via the faster lines. The deals would be evaluated on a per-case basis by the FCC, the Journal reports.
Long-term, the rules are expected to lead to new home and business services and products that would use the speedier lines — all for an additional fee, the Journal reports.
Critics told the Journal, however, that the new rules could penalize small companies and startups, since many of them cannot afford to pay for preferential treatment — and content providers would also be affected, since they could be forced to pay premium fees to guarantee optimal service to consumers.
The FCC is expected to vote on the proposed rules at its May 15 meeting.
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