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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler laid out the bright line on his proposed net neutrality rules during the Thursday meeting:
"If a network operator slowed the speed of service below that which the consumer bought, it would be commercially unreasonable and therefore prohibited. If the network operator blocked access to lawful content, it would violate our no-blocking rule and therefore be doubly prohibited."
The term "commercially unreasonable" is vital here. It's the test by which the FCC is proposing to determine whether an Internet service provider has violated net neutrality. Critics say the term is vague and could allow ISPs to give the FCC the run-around. But Wheeler is saying that although his plan allows a tiered Internet with faster lanes, the floor will be set at whatever service a customer has bought.
This potentially puts you in control of the speed of your own slow lane. Your experience of the Internet will still be powerfully shaped by what plans your broadband provider offers, and what their network policies are (e.g., whether they decide to speed up video traffic faster than e-mail, for instance). But if you buy, say, a 35 Mbps broadband plan, your ISP will be required to deliver all content to you at at least that speed.
Astute Internet users will point out that speeds on some broadband services — particularly cable providers — varies depending on network load and time of day; sometimes that speed might dip below a company's advertised speeds. The question is whether this would be a violation of the FCC's proposed rules, or whether ISPs could write it off as simply a function of the business.