December 21, 2010

New rules from the Federal Communications Commission appear to strengthen “net neutrality” principles on the wired Internet but will exempt mobile carriers from similar regulations. With the U.S. quickly moving toward a mobile-first Internet, some critics question the effectiveness of the new policy.

The FCC is expected to vote Tuesday on the new regulations, which require Internet service providers to treat all content moving across their wires equally. For instance, under the new rules, Comcast or Time Warner Cable could not charge consumers or content distributors such as YouTube a premium fee for accessing or streaming online video content. Net neutrality proponents believe that absent such regulations, wired Internet providers would manipulate access fees to discourage competitive products from reaching consumers.

In the Huffington Post on Monday, Sen. Al Franken argued that net neutrality was a crucial free speech issue and that the mobile Internet should be included in the FCC’s new rules:

“Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn’t nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).”

The danger for online publishers was highlighted in a leaked document this week revealing the mobile industry’s consideration of “pay-per-page” pricing for Internet access. Ryan Singel reports that the document, a Powerpoint presentation, outlined a process to charge consumers premium fees for accessing various online websites. Singel described one of the slides as detailing the exact scenario net neutrality advocates fear:

“A Vodafone user would be charged two cents per MB for using Facebook, three euros a month to use Skype and $0.50 monthly for a speed-limited version of YouTube. But traffic to Vodafone’s services would be free, allowing the mobile carrier to create video services that could undercut NetFlix on price.”

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.

More News

Back to News