Net Neutrality Proposal Opens Door for Prices Based on Use

Lora Bentley

Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a tentative agenda for its Dec. 21 open meeting. Just like observers predicted it would be, the Open Internet Order is first on the list.


FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is circulating the agency's latest proposal for net neutrality regulations. In a statement Wednesday, Genachowski said:

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The crux of the proposal, which would establish open Internet rules for the first time, is straightforward ... [It] starts with a meaningful transparency obligation, so that consumers and innovators have the information they need to make smart choices about subscribing to or using a broadband network, or how to develop the next killer app ...

He went on to explain that the framework also includes a ban on blocking "lawful content, apps and services" and prohibits "unreasonable discrimination" in traffic transmission. But the rules also recognize that network providers need the ability and the motivation to run and build their networks. To that end, he said:

Reasonable network management is an important part of the proposal ... [W]hat is reasonable will take account of the network technology and architecture involved.

So the "third way" the agency proffered a while back is apparently off the table, according to BetaNews. That said, there have been mixed reactions to the proposal thus far.


Ars Technica's Nate Anderson wonders whether Genachowski's mention of "usage based pricing" without also mentioning managed services means we can plan on data caps and overage charges from now on, regardless of which service provider we choose. On the other hand, usage-based pricing makes perfect sense to Columbia University law professor Tim Wu. Wu, who coined the term "net neutrality" in 2003, told The Washington Post:

I think of bandwidth and energy as very similar ... [I]f you turn on all your lights and crank the heat, you'll pay more. And if you're cranking Netflix all day and downloading 10 gigs, I've never thought it unreasonable to have to pay more. That's a billing question, not a net neutrality question.

He also noted that because the FCC does not need Congress' approval to act, a rule will be adopted on Dec. 21. What's still up for discussion is how close to the latest proposal that final rule will be.

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