The ongoing Net Neutrality debate is set to receive some long-awaited clarity - if not consensus - before the end of the year. Today, the FCC scheduled a vote to decide new rules of governing how Internet service providers may regulate traffic.

The commission released an agenda today for its Dec. 21 meeting that includes a vote on an order that would prohibit ISPs from giving priority to some Internet traffic over others. However the rule would let ISPs set tiered pricing on users who consumer more bandwidth than others. The rule will also let ISPs test out programs that would allow certain “specialized services” dedicated bandwidth, such as medical services or home security systems, so long as they could justify why such dedicated access is needed.

The proposal treats wired and wireless networks differently, with wireless networks enjoying more flexibility than their wired counterparts. Wireless networks would also be restricted from blocking competing content and applications, but are free to prioritize whatever content, applications and Web sites they like.

While both sides of the Net Neutrality debate will find something to celebrate and something to bemoan in the new proposal, it certainly represents a far less drastic move than what the FCC floated last summer. Then, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski had indicated a desire to re-classify broadband Internet providers to the same status as telephone services, which would have given the FCC the authority to impose greater regulation over them.

Internet service providers understandably resisted that approach. The softer hand taken in the new proposal is reflective of the FCC’s tenuous legal footing over how much authority it has to impose any Net Neutrality rules at all. In April, a federal court overruled the FCC’s censure of Comcast after the ISP blocked BitTorrent traffic last year, saying it had no legal authority to do so. It’s likely even these watered down rules will face court challenges as well.