The FCC Takes Yet Another Crack at Net Neutrality

| Wed Feb. 19, 2014 1:43 PM EST

After losing a court battle over its effort to impose net neutrality requirements on broadband carriers, the FCC is taking another crack at it:

The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it will craft new rules to prevent Internet service providers from charging companies like Netflix Inc. or Google Inc. a toll to reach consumers at the highest speeds.

The guidelines are expected to ban broadband providers from blocking or slowing down access to any websites. Supporters say the concept, known as "net neutrality," is crucial to keeping the Internet open and allowing smaller companies to compete with the biggest content providers. But the courts have ruled against the FCC's last two attempts to enforce net neutrality on companies like Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. that provide Internet connections to households and businesses.

The Journal has an accompanying article about the feud between Netflix and the large backbone carriers that's causing slowdowns in Netflix service:

Verizon has a policy of requiring payments from networks that dump more data into its pipes than they carry in return. "When one party's getting all the benefit and the other's carrying all the cost, issues will arise," said Craig Silliman, Verizon's head of public policy and government affairs.

The Internet has historically been built on arrangements in which big networks agree to swap each other's traffic without charge, based on the assumption that it will all even out over time. But, America's heavy use of video services like Netflix and Amazon.com Inc., as well as expanded online offerings from TV channels like ESPN, is making these old arrangements less tenable.

....The pendulum has been swinging toward the carriers in such disputes. In recent years several big Web companies, including Google Inc., Microsoft Corp., and Facebook Inc., have begun paying major U.S. broadband providers for direct connections that bring faster and smoother access into their networks. Netflix, so far, has held out.

It's not clear if net neutrality rules would affect this particular dispute or not. It probably depends on how the rules are written, and no details were provided today. I imagine the rules-writing process will take quite a while, so this isn't going to be resolved anytime soon.

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