Net neutrality set to be defended by US regulator

net-neutralityThe chairman of the US’s communications watchdog is proposing “strong” protections to ensure the principles of net neutrality are upheld.

In an article in Wired, Tom Wheeler said he intended to place new restrictions on how fixed line and mobile broadband providers handle data.

He plans to prevent the service providers from being able to create fast lanes for those willing to pay.

Verizon has indicated that it might begin legal action as a consequence.

Setting out his vision, Mr Wheeler described it as the “strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC”.

The principle of net neutrality is one that holds that all packets of data, whether it be an email, a webpage or a video, are treated equally on the network.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said he intended to reclassify internet service providers (ISPs) to make them like any other public utility, in order to ensure the watchdog can regulate them.

“These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritisation, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services,” he wrote.

“I propose to fully apply – for the first time ever – those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.

“My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”

This will mean far heavier regulation for both fixed line and wireless providers and will give the FCC the power to stop ISPs from blocking traffic from services which rival their own, or from setting up fast lanes for those internet companies prepared to pay.

In a statement to the BBC ahead of the announcement, Verizon refused to be drawn on the debate.

“We have not publicly stated, nor do we intend to speculate, as to what we may or may not do regarding an order that we have not seen and has not yet been approved,” it said.

But, in a blog post written a few months ago, entitled Diminishing the Prospects of Further Net Neutrality Litigation, the ISP explained the likely course for it and other ISPs if the FCC did reclassify internet access.

“The ISPs, and perhaps some in the tech industry, will have no choice but to fight the sudden reversal of two decades of settled law,” it wrote.

ISPs have long argued that, in a data-hungry world, there needs to be some kind of traffic prioritisation.

They point out that bandwidth heavy services such as Netflix are putting disproportionate strain on their networks and forcing them to invest billions in infrastructure. Such services, they argue, should share the costs of maintaining the network.

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