fcc votes on net neutrality
May 16, 2014

Net Neutrality Proposal Gets FCC Green Light

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

On Thursday the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to release a highly contentious proposal to reinstate net neutrality rules. This begins a four-month process that the agency has said would lead to new open Internet protection.

The 3-2 vote – which had FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who was appointed by President Barrack Obama last fall, casting the deciding vote – came on Thursday, and approved proposals that call for equal treatment of all legal data traffic on the Internet.

"The Internet is America's most important platform for economic growth, innovation, competition, free expression, and broadband investment and deployment," the FCC posted on its website. "As a 'general purpose technology,' the Internet has been, and remains to date, the preeminent 21st century engine for innovation and the economic and social benefits that follow. These benefits flow, in large part, from the open, end-to-end architecture of the Internet, which is characterized by low barriers to entry for developers of new content, applications, services, and devices and a consumer-demand-driven marketplace for their products. As the Commission explained in its 2010 Open Internet Order, the Internet's open architecture allows innovators and consumers at the edges of the network 'to create and determine the success or failure of content, applications, services and devices,' without requiring permission from the broadband provider to reach end users.1 As an open platform, it fosters diversity and it enables people to build communities."

The FCC now wants to hear from all parties involved, which means virtually anyone who uses the Internet, to comment on how this should proceed. The FCC's vote to approve a notice of proposed rulemaking is now open to public comment for 120 days.

The FCC proposal has been aimed at prohibiting providers from selectively blocking traffic, but at the same time paves the way for the more controversial practice of allowing broadband providers to manage traffic in what has been dubbed "commercially reasonable" ways – which critics of the rules say wouldn't block wealthy content providers from paying for special treatment.

Clearly the battle lines are being drawn.

On one side net neutrality proponents, including those who camped outside the FCC and attempted to disrupt Thursday's hearing, have called for the Internet to be regulated like a phone system or public utility like the electric or gas companies. On the other side, Internet service providers (ISP) such as AT&T and Verizon have called for less regulation citing that such government oversight could stifle innovation.

Businesses that rely heavily on the Internet – such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft – want to find middle ground that would provide protections of their data and content.

Even the 3-2 vote by the FCC suggested that this could be a highly contentious issue.

"I believe the process that got us to this rulemaking today is flawed. I would have preferred a delay. I think we moved too fast to be fair," said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, one of Wheeler's two fellow Democrats at the FCC, according to the Huffington Post.

"The real call to action begins after the vote today," added Commissioner Mignon Clyburn. "This is your opportunity to formally make your points on the record. You have the ear of the entire FCC. The eyes of the world are on all of us."

Wheeler has also been adamant that his proposal would not lead to so-called "Internet fast lines," but critics have noted that the rules don't specifically ban these, while net neutrality proponents have argued the proposal gives these a green light.

"A pay-for-priority Internet is unacceptable," Craig Aaron, CEO of media watchdog group Free Press, told USA Today. "Wheeler spoke passionately about the open Internet, but his rousing rhetoric doesn't match the reality of his proposal."

Video streaming service Netflix, which now utilizes about a third of US peak Internet traffic, has been among those supporting strong net neutrality rules.

"We remain concerned that the proposed approach could legalize discrimination, harming innovation and punishing U.S. consumers with a broadband experience that's worse than they already have," the video streaming service said in a statement as reported by USA Today.

To cast your vote, The Verge suggests the following: "Traditionally, those interested in making a short comment would have to do so here, on proceeding number 14-28, and longer entries would have to be included as attachments through this larger form. But given the amount of interest the FCC is expecting, it's also set up an email address, [email protected], where it's accepting comments too in order to make the whole process a bit easier."