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FCC, in ‘net neutrality’ turnaround, plans to allow fast lane

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission will propose rules that would allow Internet service providers to offer a faster lane through which to send video and other content to consumers, as long as a content company was willing to pay for it, according to people briefed on the proposals.

The rules would mark a turnaround for the FCC on so-called net neutrality, the principle that Internet users should have equal ability to see any content they choose and that no content providers should be discriminated against in providing their offerings to consumers.

The FCC’s previous rules governing net neutrality were thrown out by a federal appeals court this year.


The court said those rules had essentially treated Internet service providers as public utilities, violating a previous FCC ruling that Internet links were not to be governed by the same strict regulation as telephone or electric service.

The new rules, according to the people briefed on them, would allow a company like Comcast or Verizon to negotiate separately with each content company — like Netflix, Amazon, Disney, or Google — and charge different companies different amounts for priority service.

That, of course, could increase costs for content companies, which would then have an incentive to pass on those costs to consumers.

Proponents of net neutrality have feared that such a framework would empower large, wealthy companies and prevent small startups that might otherwise be the next Twitter or Facebook, for example, from gaining traction in the market.

The proposals, drafted by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and his staff, will be circulated to the other four commissioners beginning Thursday, an FCC spokeswoman said.

The details could be amended by consensus in order to attract support from a majority of the commissioners. The commission would then vote on a final proposal May 15.