net neutrality

This story is an obituary which marks the death of net neutrality, at the relatively young age of 45.

The final nail in the coffin of internet freedom was laid bare earlier this week after the Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for the first time in history, will allow broadband suppliers to give some corporate websites preferential treatment in terms of web traffic.

Content providers will now be able to pay broadband providers to get special access to consumers and allow their websites to perform much better and faster than those who cannot bribe these internet service providers (ISPs) with big bucks.

Of course, the FCC denies that net neutrality has been killed off. Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, told reporters: “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.”

However, the new rules effectively mean that it is okay to discriminate against traffic if content providers don’t pay the ISPs a “commercially reasonable” fee.

And of course, note that Wheeler’s statement does not say that the FCC will not kill net neutrality. All it says is that it isn’t gutting the Open Internet rules that govern internet neutrality, which is a different thing entirely.

The FCC said that companies will be able to get preferential treatment as long as they are available on “commercially reasonable” terms for all interested content companies. Whether the terms are commercially reasonable would be decided by the FCC on a case-by-case basis.

FCC proposals effectively pave the way for web discrimination, which stops short of slowing down or blocking specific websites.

Under the new guidelines, broadband will no longer be considered a public utility, which means that ISPs are no longer subject to as much regulation. However, the Commission has left the reclassification option on the table at present.

In other words, big corporates such as Google and Microsoft can pay for a speedier service and better internet traffic, while whatever is left is doled out to those who can only afford the normal cost of their broadband service.

The rules do not yet allow ISPs to slow down traffic to other websites – but of course, this new two-tier internet system doesn’t shut the door on such possibilities completely.

And as many critics have pointed out, once you enable some corporations to get preferential internet service, it hardly matters whether you’re speeding up some of the sites or slowing down others.

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