Late Wednesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the reports of a turnaround "flat out wrong."
According to the Times and the Journal, the FCC is planning to allow Internet service providers to sell a faster pipe into people's homes to content companies willing to pay for it. In other words, content providers could pay for preferential treatment into American homes.
The Times describes the concept of net neutrality as "the principle that Internet users should have equal ability to see any content they choose, and that no content providers should be discriminated against in providing their offerings to consumers." The paper adds:
"The F.C.C.'s previous rules governing net neutrality were thrown out by a federal appeals court this year. The court said those rules had essentially treated Internet service providers as public utilities, which violated a previous F.C.C. ruling that Internet links were not to be governed by the same strict regulation as telephone or electric service.
"The new rules, according to the people briefed on them, will allow a company like Comcast or Verizon to negotiate separately with each content company like Netflix, Amazon, Disney or Google and charge different companies different amounts for priority service."
The Wall Street Journal reports that once the companies have come to an agreement, the FCC would be the one to decide whether "the terms are commercially reasonable."
The Journal adds:
"The FCC's proposal would allow some forms of discrimination while preventing companies from slowing down or blocking specific websites, which likely won't satisfy all proponents of net neutrality, the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. The Commission has also decided for now against reclassifying broadband as a public utility, which would subject ISPs to much greater regulation. However, the Commission has left the reclassification option on the table at present."
Free Press, which advocates for an Internet in which all traffic is treated equally, said in a statement that the FCC proposal would break the Internet.
"With this proposal, the FCC is aiding and abetting the largest ISPs in their efforts to destroy the open Internet," Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said. "Giving ISPs the green light to implement pay-for-priority schemes will be a disaster for startups, nonprofits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls."
Update at 12:10 a.m. ET on Thursday. Responding To Chairman's Statement:
In an earlier version of its report, The New York Times referred to the FCC policy proposal as a "complete turnaround for the F.C.C. on the subject of so-called net neutrality." We quoted this, and other parts of the paper's report, which have now been rewritten.
Late Wednesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, "There is no 'turnaround in policy.' " We have updated this post to reflect these developments.