The Federal Communications Commission is expected to approve new Net neutrality rules that it believes will ensure free and open Internet access for years to come. The new rules will reportedly prevent fixed (ground) line broadband providers from blocking lawful Web content and services. Wireless broadband providers, meanwhile, will have the ability to block access to content and services as they see fit as long as they do not offer a competing service. Wireless carriers could, for example, block YouTube if the carrier did not offer a similar video sharing site.
The new rules will also supposedly discourage providers from charging fees to popular Web services such as Facebook or Google to deliver their content to your home faster.
The rules have garnered a lot of controversy. Senator Al Franken called the proposed rules "worse than nothing," but FCC commissioner Mignon L. Clybrun said the proposal "will establish clear rules to protect consumers' access."
Here's a look at some possibilities for what your broadband access at home and on your mobile device might look like under the new rules.
Skype on 3G
Yes, you can already get Skype calls over 3G on some wireless networks. But under the new FCC rules wireless providers would not be allowed to block access to Skype, because they offer a competing service (voice calls).
The new FCC rules will reportedly discourage, but not prevent, carriers from offering paid prioritization to Web services. In other words, Comcast could offer YouTube the chance to have content from Google's video site delivered to your computer faster than competing video services. The catch is that Google would have to pay a fee for that to happen.
No Torrents For You
Fixed-line broadband providers will not be allowed to discriminate against any lawful Web services you want to use. Did you see that little disclaimer in there? That's right "lawful" Web services, meaning that torrent indexing sites, such as The Pirate Bay, and other sites considered shady could soon disappear from your Web browser. This is not entirely surprising since the government has been coming down hard on copyright infringement in recent weeks. In November, federal authorities seized the domains of 82 websites purportedly selling goods that infringed copyright law such as music, movies and handbags.
It will also be interesting to see how the reported FCC rules affect peer to peer torrent sharing programs such as Vuze. There are uses for p2p file sharing software beyond grabbing a screener of, say, Tron Evolution. The site Vodo, for example, lets filmmakers distribute content to prospective audiences via Bit Torrent downloads.
In November, network management company Sandvine said Netflix streaming takes up about 20 percent of all U.S. fixed-line bandwidth during peak usage periods. Netflix is one of the most popular movie and television viewing services in North America, claiming 16 million users in the United States and Canada. If you're one of those more than 16 million people -- in the US anyway--you could end up paying a higher broadband bill every month after the Net neutrality rules take effect. Under the new rules, broadband providers would be allowed to enact tiered pricing plans based on how much broadband data you consume every month. The all-you-can-eat data buffet may be over.
The Network Management Haze Lifts
Earlier this month, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski was talking about imposing a "transparency obligation" on broadband providers. It's not entirely clear if this requirement will make it into the final rules, but the obligation would require broadband providers to offer public information about how they are managing their networks. That means you should be able to see who is blocking which sites and what kind of real-world speeds customers get on any given broadband service. This could make it easier for you to choose a new broadband provider -- if you have more than one provider to choose from in your area, that is.
Tuesday's FCC open meeting to discuss the proposed rules is scheduled to run from 10:30 a.m. Eastern until 12:30 p.m. Eastern. You can watch the meeting online here.