FCC Moves Closer to Net Neutrality Rules, Major Questions Remain
The FCC has approved Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for establishing rules for the Internet, which include the potential for pay-for-priority practices.The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today to adopt Chairman Tom Wheeler's Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The vote was split along party lines, with Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, Democrats like Wheeler, voting in favor of the notice, and Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly voting against it. The vote moves the commission forward in its task of establishing new rules around net neutrality, the practice of treating all Internet traffic equally. The May 15 vote does not confirm any final rules. Since a U.S. District Court ruled in January that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) don't need to adhere to the FCC's 2010 Open Internet Order because they aren't classified as common carriers—essentially, public utilities—the FCC has been working to get a new set of rules approved, and a contentious debate has ensued over whether and how to reclassify ISPs. One option is to classify them as Title II telecommunications services, which are subject to common carrier regulations. Also highly debated has been whether ISPs should be allowed to offer faster-than-average services for a fee—a practice referred to as "pay for priority." The proposed notice leaves open the possibility of content providers paying for priority.
Wheeler, who has fervently insisted that the Internet cannot be allowed to discriminate against or stall any traffic but somewhat tiptoed around the issue of prioritization, denounced the idea of a "fast lane" in his closing remarks.
"She is smart, thoughtful and engaged, and she is a natural researcher. When she called me to voice concerns [in April], I knew something was wrong," said Clyburn. "To mom and to all of you, I say this is an issue about promoting issues of democratic free speech," Clyburn added. Wheeler, thanking the "passionate" people who "feel so strongly about a free and open Internet that they've been sleeping in tents outside the building," said, "I understand this issue in my bones." He added, "Privileging some network users in a manner that squeezes out some voices cannot happen." Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.