WASHINGTON - US regulators' new "net neutrality" rules should classify Internet providers more like public utilities to prevent them from potentially slowing users'access to some Web content, the New York Times said in an editorial in Thursday's newspaper.
The statement comes as the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to set the new rules, which would regulate how Internet service providers, or ISPs, manage traffic on their networks. In January, a federal court struck down the agency's previous version of those rules.
The FCC is now collecting public comment on the rules it tentatively proposed in May, which the New York Times called troubling.
While prohibiting ISPs from blocking any content, the proposal suggested allowing some "commercially reasonable" deals where content companies, such as Netflix Inc or Amazon.com Inc, could pay ISPs, such as Comcast Corp or Verizon Communications Inc, to ensure smooth and fast delivery of their Web traffic.
Although FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has insisted the agency would carefully guard against abuse of the rules, the proposal drew ire from public interest groups and large Web companies. They say it would result in faster download speeds for some content as other data would be relegated to "slow lanes." Consumer advocates have called on the FCC to instead reclassify ISPs as telecommunications services rather than as the less-regulated information services they are now, saying the move would give more power to the FCC to stop potential violators of net neutrality.
The New York Times has now joined their ranks, pointing to President Barack Obama's recent comments at a recent conference with African leaders in Washington, where he said an equally accessible Internet is important for "the next Google or the next Facebook."
The New York Times editorial said: "Small and young businesses will not be able to compete against established companies if they have to pay fees to telephone and cable companies to get content to users in a timely manner."
A better option, the paper said, would be for the FCC to reclassify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service, which would allow the regulators to prohibit ISPs from"engaging in unjust or unreasonable discrimination against content." Experts have disagreed on whether or how reclassification would adequately prevent pay-for-priority deals.
ISPs and Republicans, both in Congress and at the FCC, strongly oppose reclassification, saying a heavier regulatory burden may hurt investment in broadband networks.
The ISPs also say they support an open Internet and having some content in "slow lanes" would upset their customers and so is not in their interest.
Wheeler has not proposed reclassification as the solution, but has not taken it off the table as a potential route.