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FCC Will Allow Internet Fast Lane, Sidestepping ‘Net Neutrality’

FCC Will Allow Internet Fast Lane, Sidestepping ‘Net Neutrality’

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission will propose new rules that 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 is willing to pay for it, according to people briefed on the proposals.

The proposed rules are a complete turnaround for the FCC on the subject of 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, which violated 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, will 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 as part of their subscription prices.

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

The FCC’s plans were first reported online Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal.

The new proposals, drafted by the FCC’s chairman, Tom Wheeler, and his staff, will be circulated to the other four commissioners beginning Thursday, an FCC spokeswoman said. The details can be amended by consensus in order to attract support from a majority of the commissioners. The commission will then vote on a final proposal at its May 15 meeting.

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