Net Neutrality FCC 2014: Tom Wheeler Reportedly Revamping Rules, But Clutching To Internet Toll Booth

Commission is expected to vote Thursday on proposal that could fundamentally change the Internet.

Wheeler FCC chairman Tom Wheeler drafted new rules that would allow ISPs to provide faster service to companies willing to pay for it  Reuters

Following weeks of backlash over a proposal that critics say would mean the end of Net neutrality, the head of the Federal Communications Commission is reportedly revising the proposal’s language to explicitly prohibit Internet service providers from forcing some Web traffic into a “slow lane.” But the minor modification isn’t likely to win over his harshest critics.

Late last month, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler drafted new rules that would allow ISPs to provide faster service to companies willing to pay for it. News of the drafted rules sparked outcries from open-Internet advocates and major tech companies including Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), which filed a joint letter with federal regulators to voice their belief that all Web traffic should be treated equally.

Wheeler heard the opposition, but it doesn’t seem as if he listened. According to reports in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, both of which cited anonymous sources, his revised rules will still not prohibit content companies like Netflix Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) for paying for faster service. What they will do, according to the reports, is forbid ISPs from penalizing companies that don’t pay by throttling their traffic or relegating it to a slow lane.

In other words, service providers like Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ:CMCSA) and AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) wouldn’t be allowed to slow traffic down, but they could speed it up for companies willing to pay a toll. If you think that sounds like circular logic rather than a solution, you’re not alone. Tim Wu, a Columbia University law professor who has proposed his own alternative to Wheeler’s rules, wrote in the New Yorker last month that “there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic.”

As of now, Wheeler’s proposal is still private. The chairman is expected to begin circulating his revised rules as early as Monday. At a meeting on Thursday, the FCC will vote on whether or not to formally propose the rules, at which time the rules will be made public and open to comment. Some websites, including Reddit, are planning a protest Thursday that would rival the daylong protest of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012, when many major websites went dark.

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