The Wall Street Journal is claiming the FCC has had a major change of heart over net neutrality. According to its report, the FCC is set to propose new rules that would pave the way for companies to pay for faster broadband speeds, but only if the terms of these deals are “commercially reasonable”. Such an initiative is at odds with the FFC’s previous stance, which was to keep all Internet players on a level playing field.
As part of this change, the FCC would shy away from designating Internet services as public utilities, keeping them as “information services” that can be run however the ISP chooses. However, in order to appease net neutrality fans, ISPs would be forbidden from blocking or slowing down access to any website. In addition, they’d also have to provide more information about their service speeds to customers.
The FCC has been considering what to do ever since it lost a crucial appeal in its case against Verizon last January. Previously, it was thought the FCC might devise entirely new regulations to enforce net neutrality – and so this new framework would mark a complete U-turn that conflicts with the position of the White House.
Back in February, the White House made clear it was a big advocate of net neutrality. “Absent net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries,” said a spokesperson for the government.
“The resulting decline in the development of advanced online apps and services would dampen demand for broadband and ultimately discourage investment in broadband infrastructure. An open Internet removes barriers to investment worldwide.”
Since the WSJ’s story broke, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has issued a statement to deny the report:
“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.”
Wheeler’s statement might seem pretty unequivocal, but it isn’t. Notably, he talks about “Open Internet” rules rather than net neutrality, and that’s not necessarily the same thing. Even so, it would be a particularly brave move by the FCC if it did announce a U-turn in its stance, and one that would likely draw the ire of numerous politicians and companies like Google which have long advocated net neutrality.