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FCC chairman bans some 'fast lanes' in net neutrality

| Monday, May 12, 2014, 9:03 p.m.

Responding to waves of criticism, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is revising his net neutrality rule proposals to include a ban on certain types of “fast lanes” for content companies that are willing to pay Internet service providers for the upgrade.

The revision, which seeks comments from the agency's other commissioners, was circulated on Monday as they get ready to vote Thursday on the proposals.

Wheeler's latest revision doesn't entirely ban Internet fast lanes and will leave room for some deals, including public-interest cases such as a health care company sending electrocardiography results.

But unlike his initial proposal last month, Wheeler is seeking to specifically ban certain types of fast lanes, including prioritization given by ISPs to subsidiaries that make and stream content, according to an FCC official who wasn't authorized to talk about the revisions publicly before the vote. The FCC would retain powers to review any prioritization deals that may pose public harm.

Wheeler is open to applying some “common carrier” rules that regulate telephone companies, which would result in more stringent oversight of the ISPs in commercial transactions.

On Jan. 15, a federal appeals court threw out the FCC's net neutrality rules — called Open Internet — removing any legal barriers that would stop Internet service providers from interfering with or discriminating against any data sent through their pipes.

Last month, Wheeler presented a new draft of the rules. But they included provisions that would allow fast lanes to consumers' homes that content providers can buy from ISPs as long as the opportunities are available to others on “commercially reasonable” terms.

Netflix's recent maneuvers to improve the streaming speeds of its movies and shows have underscored the complexities behind the business of delivering content from the source to “the last mile,” which connects the ISPs and their consumers. Netflix said it “reluctantly” agreed to pay to have Comcast and Verizon connect directly to Netflix's servers — rather than going through third-party Internet content distributors — and urged the FCC to tighten rules on such deals.

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