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FCC says fast lanes are a go: What net neutrality means for you

By, James O’Toole (CNN)

The Web has been buzzing these past few weeks over news of a federal proposal that would allow the creation of “fast” and “slow” lanes online.  Well, Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted for the proposal, which would allow Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon, to charge companies like Netflix and Amazon for faster access to customers. It’s now open for public comment for the next four months, and it could be changed before a final vote.

The rules are still subject to change — the FCC has to consider public comments and face scrutiny from lawmakers before they’re finalized. But here are a few ways your Internet service could change if the fast lane plan is enacted:

1.Higher costs: Net neutrality proponents worry that if content providers are forced to pay broadband companies more for high-speed delivery, those costs will be passed on to consumers.

2.Slower speeds: Creating fast lanes wouldn’t require broadband companies to build any new infrastructure, which means that overall speeds could slow down if certain companies are given more bandwidth in the existing broadband pipe.

FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler has insisted that Internet providers won’t be able to punish companies that don’t pay for the fast lane by slowing their speeds. But an unintended consequence of giving one company more lanes on a highway is less lanes for the rest of the traffic. And that additional fast lane revenue could create an incentive for broadband providers to allow network congestion to build, forcing companies to pay or face slow service.

Related: Comcast grilled in Senate over merger plans

3.Prioritized content: If one streaming video company pays for fast lane service but not another, customers will likely gravitate to the one with the clearer picture and doesn’t buffer as much.

Wheeler has tried to assure the public that the FCC won’t allow policies that “divide the Internet between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.'” But that’s already happening. Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, introduced monthly data allotments for broadband customers a few years ago but exempted its own streaming video content, disadvantaging competing services like YouTube.

And Start-ups that can’t afford to pay for the fast lane would likely be disadvantaged against larger, deep-pocketed rivals.

4.Better service for some applications: FCC officials apparently aren’t so worried about the ramifications of a fast lane. In a conference call with reporters last month, they said there are a number of possible instances in which prioritized connections could be helpful to some consumers without harming the broader marketplace, citing the example of remote heart-rate monitoring for medical patients.

Brent Skorup, a tech policy researcher at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, says there are a number of other services that consumers would be happy to see given fast-lane treatment. Digital voice service already gets “fast lane” priority on broadband networks so that phone calls aren’t disrupted, Skorup wrote in a blog post Monday. Other possible candidates for this treatment are e-learning services, gaming and TV delivered via broadband.

Related: Is AT&T going to buy DirecTV?

What the fast lane planwon’t impact: Notably, the FCC rules won’t cover deals like the ones reached earlier this year by Netflix with Comcast and Verizon, in which the online video company (reluctantly) agreed to pay for direct connections to the broadband companies’ networks to boost lagging streaming speeds. That’s because Wheeler’s proposal relates only to what broadband companies do with content in the so-called “last mile” of their networks, where they connect directly to the homes of customers.

Comcast and Verizon have effectively set up a fast lane by another name — the distinction is important for lawyers and regulators, but not so much for regular Internet users. Those deals would continue to happen with or without the passage of the fast lane plan.

The fast lane rules also won’t cover traffic discrimination on the mobile Web. AT&T (T, Fortune 500) moved early this year to institute mobile traffic prioritization, announcing a “sponsored data” plan in which content from paying businesses won’t count against customers’ monthly data caps.

But activists and tech companies see this as a high-stakes fight. Thousands of people have signed online petitions calling for the FCC to abandon the fast-lane plan, while a group of firms including Google and Amazon said last week that it poses “a grave threat to the Internet.”

All that means the controversy won’t be in the rear-view mirror any time soon.

VIEW & ADD COMMENTS

8 Comments to “FCC says fast lanes are a go: What net neutrality means for you”

    Poor Consumer said:
    May 16, 2014 at 5:10 AM

    It seems ridiculous to charge for higher speeds what other country does this? Why are American consumers and business forced to pay more to the government for something that is owned by the people and the very businesses that must pay (the internet) ?

    The US tax dollar provided the technology and the backbone structure that allowed for further development of a technology that is used by companies to make billions of dollars yearly so why should we the consumer be expected to pay more simply because it is faster? Charge what your product should cost to offset any expenses you incur for selling that product and stop sticking it to the consumer.

    Sam Hill said:
    May 16, 2014 at 6:00 AM

    Here we go socialism (communism) at it’s best. Everybody equal. Well life ain’t FAIR! Capitalism made this country great and paying for what you get is the american way. Why shouldn’t the deeper pockets be able to buy more speed on the net. They can buy faster, cars, boats, women, drugs, death, you name it and all of that on the net so why should the net be different. Tax dollars built our highways, but there are fast lanes on them and it does cost more to use them.

    MyTakeOnIt said:
    May 16, 2014 at 6:42 AM

    Not clear what is broken that there is a need to fix it with fast lanes. If a business needs more bandwidth, rent a bigger pipe and more routers. Same concept with the water system and electricity. By renting those bigger pipes, you pay more. If I want a T3 in my home, I will pay more for it. Not sure of an analogy for wireless. Whatever proposal prevents monopolizing and price gouging gets my vote. But who the hell am I? Who the hell are you? We don't really get a say in this. #4 above is just sugar-coating (wow, more gaming and TV, whoop whoop). Anytime changes are proposed, it is so someone can make more money from the bottom of the pyramid, the consumers.

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