FCC's new net neutrality proposal: What do we really know?

Controversy over new proposed rules explodes before critics have actually seen the rules

By , IDG News Service |  Networking, FCC, net neutrality

When the U.S. Federal Communications Commission announced its proposal to reinstate new net neutrality regulations that would allow broadband providers to engage in commercially reasonable traffic management, the agency set off a firestorm of protest from digital rights groups, Internet commentators and bloggers.

One problem, though: People freaking out about the proposal haven't actually seen it yet.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal is scheduled to be released to the public on May 15, when the commission plans to vote on the first step in a long process to reinstate net neutrality rules shot down by an appeals court in January.

A second problem with the controversy: A major criticism of the new proposal seems to be over what may be a fairly minor change in wording, from the FCC's original 2010 net neutrality order. FCC officials say the new proposal would allow commercially reasonable traffic management -- and, in limited cases, pay for traffic prioritization -- while the old order prohibits "unreasonable" discrimination against legal network traffic.

While the new order appears to be a change in tone, from a prohibition against unreasonable traffic management to an approval of reasonable traffic management, FCC officials have insisted the change is not as big of a deal as critics have made it out to be. FCC officials insisted they're trying to restore net neutrality rules after the court threw out the regulations.

"To be very direct, the proposal would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted," Wheeler wrote in a blog post Thursday. Under the proposal "no legal content may be blocked, and ... ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity."

The proposal will be a version of net neutrality rules -- the question will be whether they're a significantly weakened version and whether the change in degree will be acceptable to open Internet advocates and Web users. So far, the outcry has been strong, with scores of bloggers, advocacy groups and websites condemning the proposal before the text has been released.

The first criticisms of Wheeler's proposal came shortly after the Wall Street Journal broke a story Wednesday saying the FCC proposal would allow broadband providers to charge Web businesses for access to their fastest service.

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