FCC Set To Back Internet Traffic Rules
The rules would ban high-speed Internet providers like Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications from blocking lawful traffic, while recognizing the need to manage network congestion and perhaps charge based on Internet usage.
(Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal, which is in negotiations to be acquired by Comcast.)
The rules, to be somewhat looser for wireless Internet, could help cable companies in competition with plans by Microsoft Corp, Google Inc and Amazon.com to deliver competing video content over the same Internet lines the cable companies run to customers’ homes.
Charging consumers more for data-intensive tasks like downloading videos could tip the economics of Internet-delivered television back toward cable. The FCC said it would monitor usage-based pricing for abuses.
“Without regulation, rates could go up and up and up and emerging providers like Netflix and Hulu could have problems attracting users,” said Daniel Ernst, an analyst at Hudson Square Research.
Level 3 Communications, a company that helps Netflix Inc stream videos online, has already accused Comcast of charging it unfair fees to deliver content to Comcast subscribers.
The FCC’s ability to regulate the Internet has been in doubt since an appeals court in April said the agency lacked the authority to stop Comcast from blocking bandwidth-hogging applications.
Court challenges are also expected over this latest rule-making effort, although senior FCC officials have said they will invoke new legal arguments not employed in the Comcast case.
Public interest groups were skeptical of the protections for consumers under the traffic rules.
“These rules appear to be flush with giant loopholes,” said Craig Aaron, managing director of Free Press, who accused Genachowski of favoring the endorsement of industry over the public interest.
Copps had wanted the FCC to reclassify Internet traffic under tougher rules applying to telephone service, while Clyburn has said she is uneasy about giving wireless Internet providers more freedom to manage their networks than wireline services.
“While I cannot vote wholeheartedly to approve the item, I will not block it by voting against it,” Copps said in a statement on Monday.
Clyburn said in a separate statement that the rules, “while not as strong as they could be, will nonetheless protect consumers as they explore, learn, and innovate online.”
Support from Copps and Clyburn would give Genachowski the votes he needs to overcome expected opposition from the agency’s two Republicans.
Senior FCC officials said the “open” Internet order, to be considered Tuesday at a public FCC meeting, will give both landline and mobile broadband services the flexibility to “reasonably” manage their networks.
They told a briefing for reporters that the order would institute a no-blocking policy for landline Internet providers that covers all lawful content, applications, services and devices, the senior officials said.
Landline services would also be prohibited from discriminating against bandwidth-heavy content. Senior FCC officials said this provision would help prevent paid prioritization of content, where Internet providers charge websites more to reach users quickly.
The rule for wireless carriers, reflecting limited bandwidth and a more recent technology, only bans the blocking of access to websites, or competing voice and video applications.