The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 this morning to formally propose new “net neutrality” rules that may allow Internet service providers to charge content companies for faster and more reliable delivery of their content to users.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s two fellow Democrats on the five-member commission concurred with Wheeler for a 3-2 vote to advance his proposal and begin formally collecting public comment, though they expressed doubts about the plan.
“I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be compromised,” Wheeler said, during a meeting in which protesters calling for robust protections for broadband were removed.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel voted for sending the proposal out for public comment, but she said that the process over the last few weeks was “flawed.” Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly voted against it. Pai said that the FCC’s authority should first be established by Congress, while O’Rielly warned that such regulation would stifle innovation.
Many protesters, some of whom had been camping out for days, gathered outside the building to “save the Internet.” Several commissioners visited them, including Wheeler, who spoke to them yesterday.
This controversy dates back to Wheeler’s proposal last month to revive the agency’s net neutrality rules after a federal appellate court struck down key parts of the agency’s previous regulations.
Wheeler’s proposal would prohibit ISPs from blocking content by establishing that they must provide a “minimum level of access.” While the FCC previously prohibited ISPs from discriminating against certain types of traffic, the new proposal requires that they engage in “commercially reasonable” practices.
Many people believe Wheeler’s proposal will not be strong enough to prevent ISPs from selling so-called “fast lanes” to content companies, thus screwing companies who don’t pay to play. Wheeler has since revised the proposal to call for ways to define what is “commercially reasonable,” and asks for comment on whether “paid prioritization” should be banned completely.
“If someone acts to divide the Internet into haves and have nots, we will use every power to stop it,” Wheeler said, adding that “privileging some users in a manner that squeezes out small voices is unacceptable.”
Wheeler is also asking whether the FCC should consider other approaches, like classifying the Internet as a common carrier service, a regulatory move that will give the FCC more authority over the Internet.
The proposal also includes a rule that requires ISPs to disclose their network management practices, and it also sets up a way to resolve disputes, including the hiring of an ombudsman.