US moves to ban “pay for priority” on the Internet

The US government’s telecommunications regulator has approved a plan to protect network neutrality by law.

As the Open Internet Order stands today, traditional Internet service providers (ISPs) will not be allowed to charge content providers in return for prioritising delivery of their content.

ISPs will, however, be allowed to apply “reasonable network management” practices, in the interests of network security and performance.

Like their fixed-line counterparts, mobile Internet providers must not block legal websites and must be transparent in their network management practices, but they will not be subject to all of the same restrictions.

The Order was approved by only three of the FCC’s five commissioners, and may still face a legal challenge. Even if it stays in its current form, it must then win approval from Congress to become legislation. The various parties will be lobbying hard as the fine print is hammered out, which may have a material influence on the final outcome.

Whatever form the final legislation takes, it is likely to have a considerable influence on UK and European law.

The UK’s coalition government has so far given mixed signals on net neutrality. Earlier this year, culture minister Ed Vaizey appeared to be open to the possibility of a “two-sided market where consumers and content providers could choose to pay for differing levels of quality of service”.

He later clarified that “we’re not saying one ISP should be able to prioritise one provider’s content over another and I don’t support the commercial decision to downgrade a rival’s site”.

Pete Swabey

Pete Swabey

Pete was Editor of Information Age and head of technology research for Vitesse Media plc from 2005 to 2013, before moving on to be Senior Editor and then Editorial Director at The Economist Intelligence...

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