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The FCC finally issued its Net Neutrality plan – and the wireless industry got a better deal than the wired Internet providers. No one seems too happy. The plan is likely to end up in court, and a battle in Congress is brewing. Consumers are left to wonder what they got in the current stew.

The partisan 3-2 ruling (three Democrats in favor, two Republicans against) means the wired Internet service providers (Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and others) will have less say over how they manage their networks. Wireless carriers get less-stringent rules because, in the view of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, they face more congestion issues and need more leeway in managing their traffic.

Under the new rules, wired Internet providers will be prohibited from blocking legal websites – something they already do on a voluntary basis. And they can’t “unreasonably discriminate” against companies like Netflix or Skype. And that’s where the big issue lies: what is ‘reasonable’?

The wireless operators get less restriction under the new rules. They can’t block Internet voice services, but they could block access to other applications based on congestion issues.

Consumers will likely see tiered pricing for wired web access; wireless access has already moved in this direction, with AT&T Mobility’s launch last summer of two-tiered data plans for smartphone subscribers.

In my view, a lighter touch from government is better. Now companies, wired or wireless, will face a stronger hand from Washington telling them how to operate their businesses. This usually ends up costing consumers in the long run.

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