FCC Promises to Protect Open Internet, But Net Neutrality’s Future Looks Bleak

The commission will propose new rules that will ban “commercially unreasonable” violations of competition, and will not regulate prioritized content deals with cable companies

Tom Wheeler speaks at his Senate confirmation hearing June 18, 2013. (Getty Images)

The FCC is working hard to stress that it plans on maintaining the principles of net neutrality, but the future of the internet may come down to the subjective definition of “reasonable.”

After a report in the New York Times claimed that FCC chair Tom Wheeler would recommend rules that would reverse the commission’s 2010 rule that banned the preferential treatment of content by internet providers, the commission strenuously denied it.

Also read: Why Net Neutrality Matters So Much to Indie Filmmakers

Wheeler issued a statement saying that his notice “does not change the underlying goals of transparency, no blocking of lawful content, and no unreasonable discrimination.”

Additionally, Wheeler’s post said that his notice “will propose rules that establish a high bar for what is ‘commercially reasonable.’”

Also read: Netflix Slams Comcast for Not Supporting Net Neutrality

However, an FCC spokesman couldn’t specify to reporters just what defined “commercially reasonable,” and more importantly, acknowledged that cable providers would be allowed to charge companies extra money for a faster connection to consumers — like the historic deal Netflix reached with Comcast earlier this year — because those deals are beyond the scope of the current open internet rules.

“After all, a prioritized connection for a heart monitor may be a good thing at home without harming anyone else,” the spokesman said. However, consumer advocates are concerned that prioritized content will harm competition from smaller websites — such as streaming sites beyond Netflix and Hulu — and could raise prices on consumers.

The FCC wants a “broad public debate” about how this would impact internet users.

The commission did commit to disallowing companies from blocking legal content.

Also read: Netflix Prime Time Speeds Plummet on Verizon FiOS, Pushing Net Neutrality in Spotlight

If this notice is approved, the FCC will monitor for “commercially unreasonable” actions from providers, and will accept both formal and informal complaints.

“The ‘commercially reasonable’ test will be applied to meet the goals of an open internet,” the spokesman said. “Platform for free expression, economic growth, competition, investment, building of infrastructure. It will establish a standard that focuses on very specific factors that asks whether anti-competitive, whether conduct is bad for consumers, whether conduct would infringe the exercise of free speech.”