The FCC's Net Neutrality Announcement: The Good, The Bad, and What It Means for YouS

Today, the FCC's chairman will deliver a speech essentially outlining the agency's stance on net neutrality—and making an exciting push in its favor. The news isn't entirely positive though—net neutrality might be preserved, but it'll be expensive.

FCC chief Julius Genachowski plans to back new government rules that would prohibit your ISP from blocking legal content. That means that Comcast, for example, couldn't block Netflix, in an attempt to bolster its own streaming video offerings. The Washington Post is also reporting that Genachowski's proposal would block Comcast from even slowing down Netflix. So, basically, these are the prime tenets of net neutrality. So this is good news! No anti-competitive behavior from ISPs.

But.

In what appears to be a pretty major concession to the companies carrying your data, Genachowski's speech will give the thumbs up to tiered internet service, establishing cheap-o plans for those leaning most on email and other data-light activities—and potentially gouging bandwidth-hungry users. Under this rule, ISPs would be able to restructure their business along the lines of cell carriers—buy more to get more.

Interestingly (and to some, disappointingly), the FCC has chosen not to throw down and impose its sole authority to regulate the internet by reclassifying its legal status as something similar to telephone lines. It's a weaker approach—surely one easier to swallow for the ISPs—and one that'll open up the push to attacks from courts and an anti-regulatory lawmakers.

As well, Genachowski will support separate, non-public internet channels—what many feared would become "second internets"—but says they must be justified to the FCC and shown to not undermine the real internet.

For wireless broadband—the frontier of the speedy net—things are a bit murkier. Genachowski says there are "differences between fixed and mobile broadband," and will "address anticompetitive or anticonsumer behavior as appropriate." Whatever "differences" and "as appropriate" means remains to be seen, although he's still promising a basic ban against wireless broadband providers blocking rival content entirely. But weasel terms in policy making are never good news.

At any rate, the speech is—for today—just a speech. Just a stance. The FCC won't vote on anything until December 21st. But it shows that the FCC still isn't giving up on net neutrality, even if it's going to have to compromise along the way. [NYT and Washington Post]