LOS ANGELES — The nation’s top telecoms regulator is proposing to allow a pay-for-priority fast lane on the Internet for movies, music and other services to get to people’s homes.
The proposed rules come after a federal appeals court struck down previous “net neutrality” rules designed to prevent Internet access providers from discriminating against certain traffic flowing to their customers.
Under the proposal, an access provider could demand that high-traffic services such as Netflix pay for preferential treatment. The proposal would include safeguards to make sure the arrangements don’t harm consumers or stifle competition and free speech.
Because of that, FCC officials insist it’s not a departure from past policy. However, it would now permit something the FCC had discouraged under the old rules.
Consumer advocates say the proposed system would inevitably allow deep-pocketed Internet giants like Netflix, Google and Facebook to maintain their edge over startups because they can pay to ensure snappier connections and clearer, uninterrupted video.
It could result in higher prices for consumers who pay for online services, as the cost of speedier treatment could be passed on. It also could create a new revenue stream for Internet service providers like Comcast or Verizon.
The draft rules kick off a policymaking process that involves commissioner votes and a public comment period before a final vote this summer.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler sought to dispel what he called “misinformation” about the proposed rules. In a blog post, he insisted the new rules are meant to achieve the same goal as the 2010 open Internet rules that the court struck down in January.
“A policy that encourages paid prioritization is not network neutrality, and the commission is using a bad legal path to a terrible policy end,” said Sarah J. Morris, senior policy counsel at New America, a non-partisan think tank.
Corynne McSherry, intellectual property director with the non-profit civil liberties group Electronic Frontier Foundation, said she’s concerned the FCC’s rules for governing priority traffic could be too vague and leave too much to the FCC’s discretion.
So-called “net neutrality” rules have been hotly debated among policymakers, Internet providers and content companies. Without regulation, consumer advocates say, giant conglomerates — citing business or political reasons — could limit consumers from freely accessing certain types of content.