Net neutrality is not dead. But it may be about to take a big blow to the head.
The Wall Street Journal has a foreboding scoop that provides details on an early draft of the Federal Communications Commission's new net neutrality rules. And to put it mildly, Internet activists will not be thrilled.
According to the WSJ's sources, the FCC's plan would restructure the rules that govern online traffic by granting Internet service providers the ability to give some websites "preferential treatment" -- i.e. faster traffic -- in exchange for money.
If such rules were imposed, activists fear Internet service providers would make bandwidth-exhaustive websites -- think Netflix and Skype -- pay more for smoother delivery, which would theoretically mean higher prices for customers in turn.
According to the WSJ, companies in need of faster connections would have to pay for preferred treatment on the "last mile" of networks that connect to customers' homes. Such pay-to-play schemes were banned under the old rules.
In a statement provided to Mashable, which the site described as "vague," the FCC confirmed that its proposal would offer broadband providers "the ability to enter into individual negotiations with content providers."
But there is some good news. The FCC's proposal will ban Internet service providers from the most outright discriminatory practices, like blocking a legal website that offers a service that the Internet provider also offers. Unfortunately for defenders of the original tenets of net neutrality, these proposed rules will not be enough.
The commission already hinted at a similar plan back in February after a U.S. appeals court struck down the old net neutrality rules. Back then, the FCC said decisions on whether or not agreements made between content makers and Internet providers were fair would be made on a case-by-case basis.
In its original incarnation, net neutrality prohibited Internet service providers from engaging in practices that block, stifle or discriminate against (lawful) websites or traffic types on the Internet. However, a January ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down a 2010 FCC order that forced Internet providers to abide by these principles, sending net neutrality into a state of limbo and forcing the FCC to rewrite its regulations.
Critics argue that the end of net neutrality could have far-reaching effects on U.S. society by stifling innovation, hindering cash-strapped Internet startups from getting off the ground and widening the gap between the the rich's Internet and the poor's.