This week, Federal Communicatons Commission (FCC) staff voted 3-2 to go ahead with plans to change net neutrality rules that could actually end up favouring an internet ‘fast lane’ – which will allows ISPs to prioritise the speed of traffic for firms that are paying more.
Despite the rules from the FCC indicating that priority service that could be offered by a broadband provider to an affiliate would be illegal until proved otherwise, the FCC admits that it is a "rebuttable presumption", which means it is illegal until someone comes forward to prove otherwise. So, the FCC seems to be writing these rules in a straw house.
The implications of these possible changes cannot be stressed enough. They are set to turn the Internet as we know it upside down and completely alter the transformative effect broadband can have on startup companies.
Without a free Internet (that is, an internet without monetarily-incentivised prioritisation) some of the web giants we all know today might not be around.
Broadband has enabled Facebook, Amazon, the success of Android, even the Internet of Things. The list could go on.
Imagine a net where certain companies were strangled in favour of a competitor that could pay more to an ISP for faster traffic. Many ISPs have affiliates who offer similar services to competitors – competitors who may offer better and more reliable services – but just never get the break because they are discriminated against and put in the slow lane.
But Tom Wheeler, president of the FCC, says that by proposing the internet to be regulated under section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, it does not allow for paid prioritisation.
"The potential that there would be some kind of a fast lane has many concerned," Wheeler said. "I don’t like the idea and I will work to see that does not happen. We specifically ask whether we can and how to prevent an internet fast lane."
But using section 706 leaves the massive loophole of a fast lane, which is why hordes of worried protestors and tech companies are campaigning to classify broadband under Title II, which would regulate broadband like a service more like telephone lines, where ISPs are obligated to be fair to consumers. But even Title II, written in the days of dial-up, could actually damage net neutrality as it may massively change how ISPs operate by making them open up their networks completely, putting the FCC in the firing line.
The FCC is doing what it sees best here to regain net neutrality and keep all parties happy, but it’s still not offering the proof of protection that most want to see, so we’re going to be setting up camp for a long battle it seems.