net neutrality concerns
May 9, 2014

FCC Democrats And Tech Firms Concerned Over Net Neutrality Proposal

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Two Democrats serving on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expressed serious concerns this week about Chairman Tom Wheeler's net neutrality proposal, which would reestablish new rules for Internet traffic after a federal court ruling overturned the FCC’s 2010 regulations.

The objections by Democrat Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel coincide with a letter issued Wednesday by Amazon, Google, Facebook, Yahoo and some 150 other technology companies that called Wheeler’s proposal to allow broadband providers to charge for faster delivery of content "a grave threat to the Internet."

Wheeler’s proposal had also angered liberals and various public interest groups last month when he unveiled details of the plan. The critics complained that the plan essentially walks back the FCC's longstanding position that all legal online content should be treated the same, and that phone and cable companies should not be permitted to create high-speed Internet toll lanes. Such pricing schemes would lead to higher prices for consumers, the critics said.

On Wednesday, Rosenworcel urged Wheeler to postpone a planned May 15 vote that would begin the formal rulemaking process, and requested a delay of at least one month to allow additional time for public comment.

"His proposal has unleashed a torrent of public response. Tens of thousands of e-mails, hundreds of calls, commentary all across the Internet," the Los Angeles Times quoted Rosenworcel as saying in a speech to the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies in Washington.

"We need to respect that input and we need time for that input.”

In a blog post written on Wednesday, Clyburn noted that she opposed pay-for-priority when the FCC enacted its 2010 net neutrality rules, and acknowledged the surge of public input in recent weeks asking her to pass rules ensuring the Internet remains free and open.

“While it is my normal practice not to comment in advance on items which are on circulation out of my deep respect for the integrity of our regulatory and administrative process, given the high level of attention and the outpouring of expression on the notice of proposed rulemaking on Open Internet, I felt it was important to highlight my previously stated views,” she wrote.

“Over 100,000 Americans have spoken,” Clyburn said.

"I am listening to your voices as I approach this critical vote to preserve an ever-free and open Internet."

Neither Clyburn nor Rosenworcel said they outright opposed Wheeler's plan, which includes other items that Democrats support, such as banning broadband providers from blocking any legal content.

Clyburn said that her "mind remains open,” and Rosenworcel praised Wheeler for saying that "all options are on the table."

An FCC spokesman said on Wednesday that Chairman Wheeler intends to push ahead with his proposal, and Wheeler himself said he wants to act quickly because after the January court ruling, there are no rules governing Internet traffic.

Wheeler said he would like the FCC to adopt new rules by the end of the year, but that he fully supports a vigorous public debate on how best to protect the open Internet.

The FCC spokesman said Wheeler plans to put forward his proposals for public comment next week.

"Moving forward will allow the American people to review and comment on the proposed plan without delay, and bring us one step closer to putting rules on the books to protect consumers and entrepreneurs online,” the spokesman told The Times.

Wheeler has said broadband providers would have to provide all customers a baseline level of service, and that any pay-for-priority service would need to be "commercially reasonable," and subject to FCC review.

But with the two Republicans on the five-person FCC opposed to enacting new net neutrality rules, the remarks by Rosenworcel and Clyburn, along with the objections of major Internet firms, may suggest trouble for the new plan.

"Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission's rules should protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization, and should make the market for Internet services more transparent," the technology companies said in their letter.

"The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low."

Several Democratic lawmakers have also objected to the proposal, including Senator Al Franken (D-MN), and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA), who joined Rosenworcel in calling for a delay on the scheduled May 15 vote.