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FCC may delay release of Net neutrality rules until 2015

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who had promised to deliver proposed new rules for managing Internet traffic, may be finding the task more complicated than anticipated, The Wall Street Journal reports.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler may not deliver his proposed new rules for Net neutrality until 2015, instead of by the end of this year. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

The US Federal Communications Commission, working on complicated rules about how Internet providers can handle video and other traffic that crosses their networks, may delay offering up its guidelines until 2015 so it can "ensure they are defensible in court and people understand them," The Wall Street Journal reported, citing FCC officials.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who wanted the proposed rules out by the end of this year, has been working to appease advocates of so-called "Net neutrality," as well as providers, who don't want more regulation over their services. Wheeler needs to have his proposed rules completed by the end of the month to submit them in time for the FCC's last open meeting of the year on December 11, but FCC lawyers are pushing for more time, the Journal said.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers, such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon, and governments around the world should treat all Internet traffic the same. This means Internet service providers (ISPs) shouldn't block or slow down traffic on their local broadband networks based on individual users. And they shouldn't modify their services based on the type of traffic those users are accessing or by the type of service that's sending the content.

Wheeler may be a considering a new "hybrid" plan that would still allow for "fast lanes," the Journal said. Such lanes would let content and other website owners make special deals with network service providers to ensure sure their website or content is served up faster than other sites and content online. But the new plan would rely on a different legal justification than what's been debated this year, and it would expand the FCC's regulatory authority over broadband service providers, the paper said.

"Under the emerging plan, Internet providers' retail operations -- where consumers pay for Web access -- would be regulated more lightly than the back end, in which broadband providers serve as the conduit for websites to distribute content," the Journal said. "The FCC would classify the back-end service as a common carrier, like the old landline telephone network, giving the agency the ability to police any deals between content companies and broadband providers."