FCC Expected to Back Away From Net Neutrality

Washington — The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday will circulate proposed rules that could give high-speed Internet providers more power over what content moves the fastest on the Web based on which firms pay the most, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The move represents a retreat from the agency’s position in past years on the net neutrality principle, in which Internet providers must treat all web content equally. The proposal would allow broadband providers to charge Web firms for smoother and faster downloads to consumers, said the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because the release is not public yet.

The draft proposal could change before it is brought to a vote next month, but it is sure to spark an outcry from consumer advocates who say the practice would give Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable too much power over the experience of Web users. Another concern is that under the system being proposed by the FCC, large Web companies such as Facebook and Google would have an unfair advantage over startups that can’t afford to pay for priority access into U.S. homes.

The FCC’s proposed rules would not allow telecom firms to block websites. On a case-by-case basis, the agency would watch for practices that are anti-competitive. For instance, if Verizon threatened to slow down Netflix, which competes with Verizon’s Redbox Instant video and FiOS television service, the FCC could potentially weigh in. Broadband firms could begin to strike deals for preferential treatment on their networks, according to the source, as long as agreements between the firms are considered “commercially reasonable.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler also is expected to ask in his draft if the agency should pursue a reclassification of broadband Internet services under monopoly telecom rules. That portion of the plan is expected to evoke wide protest, particularly among businesses and Republican lawmakers who say the agency should not strap new rules onto broadband providers.

The FCC is expected to come up with final regulations by the end of the summer.