The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is set to vote on a set of regulations designed to ensure that Internet providers treat all types of web content equally. The "net neutrality" rules, pushed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, would mark the government's biggest move yet in what has been a contentious debate between companies providing access to the web and consumer groups advocating for an open Internet.
Essentially the new rules would theoretically keep service providers from charging differentiated fees for different types of content or slowing down certain websites or apps -- those belonging to a competitor, for example – while “discouraging” but not expressly forbidding faster transmission of data from high-paying clients. If it passes, as it is expected to do with three votes against two, the plan will go before Congress for final approval.
Two Democratic commissioners voting in favor of the proposition, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, acknowledged that the order was not as strong as they would have liked but are letting it move forward hoping it can be tweaked later. One of their main concerns is that the rules for wireless carriers are not strong enough – it includes transparency requirements on network management policies and a basic "no-blocking" that covers websites, but not applications or services unless those applications directly compete with providers’ voice and video products, like Skype or Vonage.
This half-measure approach would mean that wireless carriers could indeed block or charge more for other types of Internet applications, such as video or social networking services, which is particularly worrying after seeing some recently leaked slides that show carriers are at least considering to go this route. FCC officials claim there are technological reasons for the wireless distinctions, and that they would continue to closely monitor the medium.