May 13, 2014
Facing Opposition, FCC Chair Revises Proposed Net Neutrality Plan
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Under strong public criticism, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is scrambling to salvage his controversial net neutrality plan unveiled last month, which would allow Internet service providers to charge content companies such as Netflix for faster access into US households.
According to agency officials, Wheeler is circulating a revised plan that includes new language with assurances that broadband providers will be prohibited from segregating web traffic into fast and slow lanes.
The updated version of the proposal, which comes days ahead of a vote on the new rules scheduled for Thursday, seeks to address concerns from the public and some FCC commissioners.
However, the revised plan doesn’t entirely ban a pay-for-priority system, but rather takes a case-by-case approach that leaves room for some deals. Unlike the initial proposal unveiled last month, the new plan seeks to specifically prohibit certain types of Internet fast lanes, including prioritization given by ISPs to their subsidiaries that create and stream content, the FCC official said. The agency would also have authority to review any prioritization agreements that may pose public harm.
Wheeler said he is also open to including some "common carrier" rules that regulate telephone companies, which would result in tighter oversight of broadband providers.
"It looks like the regulators are trying to address some of the concerns, but the reported changes don't fix the basic problems," said Delara Derakhshani, policy counsel for Consumers Union, in an interview with USA Today.
"We're still looking at the very real possibility of a 'pay-to-play' market. That's not net neutrality. We still believe the best option for achieving net neutrality and protecting consumers is reclassifying Internet service as a telecommunications service."
In January, a federal appeals court threw out the FCC's “Open Internet” net neutrality rules. That ruling eliminated any legal barriers preventing Internet service providers from interfering with or discriminating against data sent across their networks.
Last month, Wheeler floated a new draft of the revised rules that allowed ISPs to charge content providers as long as the same opportunities are available to others on "commercially reasonable" terms.
But advocacy groups, members of the public and FCC commissioners quickly criticized the proposal, arguing that the rules were unfair to small businesses and entrepreneurs. The plan, they said, could result in slower lanes for those who were unable to afford to pay broadband providers for faster speeds. This would essentially create a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes for the highest bidders and slow lanes for nonprofits and small businesses, they said.
Some 150 tech companies, including Google and Netflix, also weighed in and issued a letter last week that voiced their opposition to Wheeler's initial proposal.
"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," they wrote.
"The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low."
Wheeler’s push for support of his revised plan will likely continue up until Thursday’s vote. In the mean time, Gigi Sohn, Wheeler’s senior counsel for external affairs, will host a Twitter chat session on Tuesday about net neutrality, the agency said.