Column: New Internet rules up for review

In a new version of the Open Internet Rules from the Federal Communications Commission proposed on Thursday, a provision allowing Internet service providers to offer faster delivery of services for a fee has brought into question the FCC's stance on Net Neutrality.

The new Open Internet Rules will replace the FCC's original rules from 2010, which were struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals in January.

Under the new proposal, the three pillars of FCC's Open Internet Rules will remain: all ISPs must remain transparent, no legal content may be blocked and no unreasonable discrimination of traffic on a network is allowed.

However, the new provision would allow ISPs to provide priority access over the "last mile" connection to a customer's home, providing a company with faster delivery speeds. Companies can elect to buy the service and ISPs must provide the option to all interested parties on commercially reasonable terms.

The new rules will also look to establish a minimum standard of service to serve as a baseline. The FCC will be looking to the public to help draft those standards.

In the event that a priority access agreement is challenged, the FCC will review the case based on the impact on competition and consumers, on free speech and civil engagement, and whether the ISP was acting in good faith.

Digital rights activists have already objected to the new proposal.

"The FCC is inviting ISPs to pick winners and losers online. The very essence of a 'commercial reasonableness' standard is discrimination," said Michael Weinberg, vice president at Public Knowledge, in a news release.

Public Knowledge is a non-profit public interest group involved in intellectual property law, competition, and an open standards Internet.

"The core of net neutrality is non-discrimination. This is not net neutrality. This standard allows ISPs to impose a new price of entry for innovation on the Internet."

Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, wrote, "The FCC had an opportunity to reverse its failures and pursue real Net Neutrality by reclassifying broadband under law. Instead, in a moment of political cowardice and extreme shortsightedness, it has chosen this convoluted path that won't protect Internet users."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler fired back on FCC's blog.

"To be very direct, the proposal would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted," wrote Wheeler.

"The allegation that it will result in anti-competitive price increases for consumers is also unfounded. That is exactly what the 'commercially unreasonable' test will protect against: harm to competition and consumers stemming from abusive market activity."

The new rules will be reviewed and voted on sometime in May.