FCC 'to delay' US vote on net neutrality

People protesting about net neutrality rule changes Image copyright AFP
Image caption Hints that the FCC was considering allowing "fast lanes" for some internet traffic caused protests

US watchdog the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will delay a decision about how it governs the internet until 2015, it is reported.

The debate over net neutrality, the principle that all traffic on the network be treated equally, has intensified in recent days.

President Obama has said this week that he wants the FCC to impose strong rules to protect net neutrality.

Service providers said they would fight moves to impose stricter regulation.

FCC press secretary Kim Hart confirmed to the BBC that the decision on the issue will be put off until the new year.

"There will be no vote on open internet rules in the December meeting agenda. That would mean rules would now be finalised in 2015."

Earlier the FCC had said that it would make a decision by the end of the year.

The debate hinges on whether service providers should be allowed to charge some net firms in order to prioritise their traffic on the network.

Internet service providers (ISPs) argue they should be allowed to charge more for data-heavy services such as Netflix but net advocates say that doing so would undermine the principles of a free and equal internet for all.

Many ISPs were stunned when President Obama made a statement urging the FCC to reclassify them so that they could be regulated more like other utilities.

"Net neutrality has been built into the fabric of the internet since its creation," the president said. "We cannot allow ISPs to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas."

The FCC has received four million public comments urging the same.

In response, the telecommunications industry said that it would lobby the FCC not to go down that route and is willing to go to court if that does not work.

"We are stunned the president would abandon the long-standing bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the internet," said National Cable and Telecommunication Association president Michael Powell.

The new rules are yet to be written but the FCC has hinted that it is paving the way to allow some traffic to be prioritised.

FCC head Tom Wheeler is seen as keen to pacify huge internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.

The Washington Post reported that he told a group of internet firms that he favoured a more "nuanced" solution than the one proposed by President Obama.

The need for the new rules came about following a legal challenge from Verizon which the court ultimately agreed with. While the court did not disagree with the need to protect net neutrality, it questioned the FCC's legal approach.

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