The Federal Communications Commission's approval of a "Net neutrality" measure has financial services and technology executives concerned about the future of Web-based technology.
A divided FCC approved the measure on Dec. 21. It initiates regulation of Internet service providers' activities with a set of rules to promote equal access and openness to the Internet, a concept known as Net neutrality. But the issue doesn't end with the 3-to-2 party-line vote, because the policy is sure to face court challenges.
The rules mandate transparency in how ISPs manage their networks and set a policy of nondiscrimination on the Web, ensuring that all applications and technologies can move data across public Internet lines. But the measure also gives ISPs the authority to conduct "reasonable" network management, paving the way for tiered pricing models.
For those who use the Internet for activities that do not require high-speed connections, like e-mail or instant messaging, lower-cost access may become an option.
But for businesses that need high-speed access to process mortgage documents and other activities, as well as consumers who use the Internet to stream media such as music and video, the cost for high-speed access could increase.
A bigger concern is that the new rules could cause ISPs to implement a packet routing priority strategy, where users willing to pay for speed would get their data sent over networks faster.
"It would be like creating toll roads on the Internet," Jorge Sauri, the founder and chief technology officer of MortgageDashboard, a loan origination system provider in Austin, Texas, said in an interview before the FCC vote.
"The only way that you're going to get technological advancement and bring about new technologies is with unfettered Internet access," Sauri said.
Lawmakers are taking sides on the policy. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., said in a Dec. 18 speech on the Senate floor that the impact of the policy goes beyond how consumers are entertained or businesses operate.
"If corporations are allowed to prioritize content on the Internet, or they are allowed to block applications you access on your iPhone, there is nothing to prevent those same corporations from censoring political speech," Franken said.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who proposed the plan earlier this month, called it a compromise between ISP and consumer advocacy stakeholders. But Genachowski faced opposition from the commission's two Republican members, who called the efforts an attempt to regulate a problem that did not exist and questioned the panel's authority to act on the matter.
Even Genachowski's fellow Democrats criticized the measure. They said that it does not go far enough to promote Net neutrality — the idea that all users should have equal access to the Internet and all data should be allowed to transfer across networks indiscriminately.