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Proposed US rules leave open Internet fast lanes

SAN FRANCISCO--Internet fast lanes that seemingly run counter to the concept of “net neutrality” would be allowed under rules proposed by U.S. regulators eager to keep broadband service providers from abusing their power.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday laid out a proposal to make sure Internet service providers don't discriminate when it comes to data coursing through online pipes.

The rules wouldn't prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from letting technology titans such as Netflix or Google pay for faster data speeds but would require that competing traffic move at “reasonable” speeds.

The “open Internet notice of proposed rule making” sent from FCC chief Tom Wheeler to the full commission was pounced on by critics as a betrayal of the goal of keeping the Internet “neutral” by preventing some online traffic from getting priority over other content.

“FCC proposed rules create incentives for discrimination,” read a Twitter post by Stacey DePolo, a social media manager at domain name giant GoDaddy. “Fight back. Demand real net neutrality.”

The post linked to an online petition urging Wheeler to scrap the proposed rules in favor of a non-discrimination stance that involves reclassifying broadband providers as telecommunications services subject to FCC authority.

The FCC was adamant that it remains committed to net neutrality and is trying to create rules that can withstand legal scrutiny.

Two prior attempts, the most recent in 2010, by the FCC to hold broadband service providers to standards were stymied by U.S. District Court decisions that such moves were outside the agency's scope of authority.

Wheeler seized on part of the most recent court decision that suggests the FCC has power to take action if ISPs act in “commercially unreasonable” ways.

The proposed rules “follow the roadmap established by the court as to how to enforce rules of the road that protect an open Internet,” Wheeler said in a blog post.

“To be very direct, the proposal would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted,” the FCC chairman maintained.

The proposal will be considered by the full commission at a meeting in May 15 and, if endorsed, a period for public comment will follow.

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