FCC Set To Change Net Neutrality Rules

On Thursday, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission will propose new rules for how broadband providers should treat the Internet traffic flowing through their networks.

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Today, the Federal Communications Commission will propose new rules for how broadband Internet providers should treat the traffic flowing through their networks. The FCC chairman says the proposed rules will keep the traffic flow open for all. Public interest groups fear the rules may do just the opposite.

NPR's Joel Rose reports.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: The FCC has tried before to pass rules protecting net neutrality - the idea that broadband providers should treat all the traffic on their networks equally. The commission's last attempt, in 2010, was struck down by an appeals court. So now, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is trying again.

The new rules would still prevent Internet service providers from simply blocking the websites or services of their competitors. But there's at least one apparent difference from the rules the court struck down, and that has public interest advocates up in arms.

CRAIG AARON: This is not net neutrality. This is opening the door to a future of discrimination.

ROSE: Craig Aaron is the president of the nonprofit group Free Press. He's upset about a proposed rule that would allow Internet providers to strike exclusive deals with web companies to deliver their data into consumers' homes faster than their competitors' - as long as the FCC decides that those deals are, quote, "commercially reasonable," unquote.

Similar deals are already happening at the point where content companies connect to Internet service providers. For example, Netflix is paying Comcast extra for faster access to its pipes. Charging another fee to get into your home faster represents a massive business opportunity for broadband companies. But Aaron says it would be a bad deal for Web companies, especially those that can't afford to pay more for premium service.

AARON: This creates the two-lane highway where there's a fast lane for a couple of big players, and everybody else is stuck on the slow road. That's the danger of what the FCC is about to propose.

ROSE: In a statement, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler insists there has been, quote, "no turnaround in policy," unquote. The full commission will hold an open meeting to discuss the proposed rules on May 15th.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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