For four months now, the public can weigh in on the rules proposed
by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in what promises to
be an intense tug-of-war between some tech companies and consumer
advocates on one side and Republicans and broadband providers on the
other, over the extent to which the agency can regulate Internet
Dozens protested the vote at the FCC on Thursday as many consumer
advocates have rejected FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal that may
allow some "commercially reasonable" deals in which content
companies could pay broadband providers to prioritize traffic on
Critics worry the rules would create "fast lanes" for companies that
pay up and mean slower traffic for others. Wheeler pledged to use
all of his powers to prevent "acts to divide the Internet between
'haves' and 'have nots.'"
"I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be
compromised," Wheeler said. "The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing
winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable."
Consumer advocates want the FCC to instead reclassify Internet
providers as utilities, like telephone companies, rather than as the
less-regulated information services they are now. Broadband
companies and Republicans, both in Congress and at the FCC,
vehemently oppose the plan.
The advanced proposal seeks comment on benefits of reclassification,
which critics say would throw the industry into legal limbo,
discourage investment in network infrastructure and still not
prevent pay-for-priority deals.
Wheeler's two fellow Democrats at the FCC expressed misgivings about
his proposal, with Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel saying the FCC
moved "too fast to be fair." But she and Mignon Clyburn concurred
with Wheeler for a 3-2 vote to begin the process of collecting
public comment on the proposal.
"The real call to action begins after the vote today," Clyburn said.
"You have the ear of the entire FCC. The eyes of the world are on
all of us."
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The FCC's move comes after a U.S. appeals court rejected its earlier
net neutrality rules, which said pay-for-priority deals "would raise
significant cause for concern." To comply with the court, the new
proposal suggests some pay-for-priority deals may be allowed, but
also asks whether "some or all" such deals can be banned.
"The FCC's efforts were dealt a real challenge by the Court of
Appeals in January, but Chairman Wheeler has said his goal is to
preserve an open Internet, and we are pleased to see that he is
keeping all options on the table," the White House said in a
statement, adding they will watch the independent agency's work "in
hopes that the final rule stays true to the spirit of net
The FCC's vote was cautiously welcomed by both broadband providers
and consumer interest and technology groups as each side hopes the
ultimate rules lean their way.
"Nothing should be taken off the table as this discussion evolves,"
Michael Beckerman, chief executive officer of the Internet
Association that represents companies including Google Inc and
Facebook Inc, said in a statement, adding that his group will
"advocate for the FCC to use its full legal authority to enforce
rules that lead to an open Internet."
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Ros Krasny, Andrea Ricci and
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