The Man Who Sold the Internet

Posted by | Filed under News | May 12, 2014 | Tags: , , | No Comments

Proposed FCC regulations would allow Internet Service Providers to charge Internet companies for preferential treatment and direct access to consumers.

Tech giants joined Internet startups last week to rally against Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler in a letter protesting proposed rules that would allow Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to charge Internet companies for preferential treatment or “fast lane” access to users.

The new regulations, which would prioritize Internet traffic based on financial or technical preference and directly affect what content reaches consumers, ignited a fury amongst “Net-neutrality” advocates, who argue that consumers should have equal access to Internet content.

The letter’s signatories, which include Amazon, Dropbox, Ebay, Facebook, Foursquare, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, Reddit, Tumblr, Twitter and Yahoo, as well as dozens of Internet startups, argue that this undermines the original role of the Internet as an open forum for small startups and large corporations alike.

“According to recent news reports, the Commission intends to propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them,” the tech companies wrote in their letter. “If these reports are correct, this represents a grave threat to the Internet.”

Wheeler spoke out against similar accusations in April, calling the notion “flat out wrong.”

Under the FCC’s new plan, ISPs “would be required to offer a baseline level of service to their subscribers,” according to an FCC spokesperson. The companies would also be prohibited from blocking or discriminating against legal online content, but they can arrange agreements with Internet companies for preferential treatment, as long as they acted in a “commercially reasonable manner subject to review on a case-by-case basis.”

The “commercially reasonable manner” is what concerns many Net-neutrality advocates. To what degree is the favoring or discriminating of Internet companies considered reasonable? And should the Internet even be subject to prioritization?

Technology, business and public policy writer for Time magazine, Sam Gustin points out that the new policies can change the current dynamic of the Internet.

“For over a decade, the Internet has largely adhered to Net neutrality, which is why most consumers take it for granted. In practice, Net neutrality means that all users have open access to the Internet, just like all Americans have the right to travel anywhere in the 50 states without a passport,” wrote Gustin. “Without this open access, startups like Google, Twitter and Facebook might never have flourished, according to Net-neutrality advocates, who say the FCC’s new proposal threatens the Internet’s vibrant ecosystem.”


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