The new "net neutrality" rules, which the Federal Communications Commission say are in line with a federal court's January ruling, has advocates up in arms. The commission says that they are still protecting net neutrality -- the idea of an open Internet where all traffic is treated equally -- by preventing service providers from blocking or slowing the content of companies like Netflix and Google. But ISPs would be able to charge sites for faster connections to end users.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had to placate advocates of net neutrality saying that speculation the agency was “gutting the open Internet rule” is “flat out wrong.” He reiterated that the proposed rules were along the lines of the appeals court’s decision.
Neutrality advocates say the rule could change the way Internet content is distributed.
"With this proposal, the FCC is aiding and abetting the largest ISPs in their efforts to destroy the open Internet," said Craig Aaron of Free Press.
"The FCC is inviting ISPs to pick winners and losers online," said Michael Weinberg of Public Knowledge.
Advocates believe barring ISPs from charging tech companies for high-priority content delivery is essential to preserving the free and open nature of the Internet. Otherwise, they say ISPs will have the power to pick and choose winners and losers, with deep-pocketed tech companies emerging as the winners.
Those supporting net neutrality say this would hamper startups and smaller companies who do not have the resources to pay for high-speed lanes, and would not have the same opportunities as bigger companies to attract users to their products.
For example, a gaming or video streaming company would lose customers if their products are not delivered at the same speed as other companies, resulting is customers losing interest and choosing other products.
Wheeler issued a statement dismissing claims that there had ben a turnaround in policy.
"There are reports that the FCC is gutting the Open Internet rule. They are flat out wrong. Tomorrow we will circulate to the Commission a new Open Internet proposal that will restore the concepts of net neutrality consistent with the court's ruling in January. There is no 'turnaround in policy.' The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original Open Internet rules, and consistent with the court's decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted."
The issue has come to the fore after old rules issued by the FCC were struck down by a federal appeals court in January. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated two rules -- banning ISPs from blocking legal websites and services and barring them from unreasonably discriminating against any legal site or service's traffic -- saying the commission didn't prove it had the legal authority to impose such restrictions on information services.
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