In the wake of a January decision that gave Internet service providers more control over the flow of information on their networks, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) said that it would seek new ways to preserve the equitable treatment of information on the Internet. But on April 1, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made it clear that those plans do not currently include stopping providers from charging services like Netflix and Hulu from connecting to their networks.
The National Journal reports that those comments were likely directed to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who recently made a plea to the FCC to consider peering deals under the auspices of net neutrality. Hasting’s request follows a deal Netflix struck with Comcast that give it service better connectivity to Comcast’s network for an undisclosed price. FCC guidelines that would stop these types of deals would prevent Netflix from having to shell out to other cable service providers.
“Peering and interconnection are not under consideration in the Open Internet proceeding, but we are monitoring the issues involved to see if any action is needed in any other context,” said a spokesperson speaking with The Journal.
The remarks could point to a softening of regulation in the post net neutrality world. While the FCC has said that it will ensure that websites are not being charged similarly for connecting to service providers, the line between a service like Netflix and smaller websites are blurry. In fact many large websites already have similar deals with service providers in place.
Though deals like the one that Netflix struck with Comcast are not a guarantee of preferential treatment, cable providers could conceivably charge more for services that use more bandwidth. This could challenge the precepts of equitable traffic previously protected under net neutrality laws by creating a higher barrier of entry.
The questions becomes, in an environment where the equitable flow of Internet traffic is not enforced by the government, who prevents ISPs from charging any web services, small or large, for the right to connect?
In a blog post Hasting’s echoed that question saying, “some big [Internet service providers] are extracting a toll because they can—they effectively control access to millions of consumers and are willing to sacrifice the interests of their own customers to press Netflix and others to pay.”
Comcast has categorically denied those allegations.
Hastings has continued to press the FCC for stronger net-neutrality rules, but as of yet no proposed changes to current regulations have been made.
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