Initial reports about the FCC’s hotly anticipated net neutrality rules are out, and they are foreboding. While they will prevent broadband providers in the US from blocking legal content on the internet, it does not explicitly ban companies from paying for better service. While that’s bad for net neutrality, it’s not entirely a surprise.
Net neutrality advocates have long hoped that the FCC would rise up to protect the free and open internet, after a US Appeals Court came down on the side of big telecom and threw out an earlier version of the FCC’s rules. That version did make it illegal for telecom companies to offer pay-to-play deals to internet companies, but the FCC chose not to appeal. Not long after that, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said that the commission would write new “Open internet” rules. On Wednesday, he said that he’d circulate a draft of the new rules on Thursday and that the agency will meet on May 15 to discuss everything.
Wheeler has said in the past that the new net neutrality rules would not address pay-to-play deals, also referred to as interconnection. And by not addressing interconnection, the FCC is more or less opening the floodgates for more backroom deals between service providers and corporations that can afford to pay for preferential treatment. This, many say, will create an uneven playing field for business on the internet, since big companies can gain a competitive advantage over start ups with the power of their checkbooks. It’s already happening.
There is hope. We don’t know exactly what the FCC will propose, because they haven’t proposed it. The Journal could be wrong. Or the government could have something else up its sleeve, some other way to protect net neutrality. After all, when the last set of FCC rules were tossed out, the White House did say that President Obama “remains committed to an open internet, where… online innovators are allowed to compete on a level playing field based on the quality of their products.”