Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler announced yesterday that he will begin drafting a new set of rules to enforce net neutrality, reports Mike Snider for USA Today. A previous set of rules were struck down last month by a federal appeals court, and instead of appealing that decision Wheeler will try to draft rules that have the same desired outcome within the bounds set by the court’s decision.
“The FCC must stand strongly behind its responsibility to oversee the public interest standard and ensure that the Internet remains open and fair,” he said in a statement. “The Internet is and must remain the greatest engine of free expression, innovation, economic growth and opportunity the world has ever known.”
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Net neutrality requires all traffic to be treated equally
Net neutrality is the idea that the companies who own the broadband cables that form the backbone of the internet should treat all traffic as if it were the same. Without net neutrality, it would be possible for a large broadband owner like Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) to slow traffic from Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) to the point that its streaming movies became unwatchable, or charge a fee to allow the normal flow of data.
With a tiered system, large content producers would gain a big advantage over smaller entrants, and there would be a constant threat of broadband owners using their control over internet speeds to create monopolies in content. Many people have argued that internet broadband should be treated like a public utility, which would open it up to significantly more regulation. Wheeler has so far refrained from trying to get the internet reclassified in this way, but he has left the option on the table.
Not all FCC commissioners agree with Wheeler
While net neutrality is good for online competition and for consumers, it prevents broadband owners from charging the companies who use the most bandwidth. Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) is a prime example, at times taking up as much as a third of all North American internet traffic, and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) wants some form of compensation from Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) for carrying their videos, USA Today reports. Internet subscribers pay for their service, but typically at a flat rate, giving neither the user nor the sites they visit much incentive to conserve bandwidth.
FCC commissioner Mike O’Rielly disagrees with Wheeler’s decision, arguing that it’s not clear if net neutrality is actually better for the consumer than market deregulation. “Instead of fostering investment and innovation through deregulation, the FCC will be devoting its resources to adopting new rules without any evidence that consumers are unable to access the content of their choice,” said O’Rielly.