Wheeler's Net Neutrality Proposal Brings Unfamiliar Disorder to FCC

NEWS ANALYSIS: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's network neutrality proposal brings unfamiliar disorder to the rules-making process.

The good news about the status of the proposal by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and his plans for allowing priority on the Internet is that it shows that he's paying attention to the backlash from pretty much everywhere. The bad news is that it still seems that he's rushing things.

When I suggested that Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was right in expressing concern about the short notice before the upcoming vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Chairman's Open Internet plans, it wasn't clear how important that might be.

But an announcement by the FCC that the chairman was now revising his Open Internet proposal to eliminate the so-called "Fast Lanes" for content providers and instead would allow them only for specific uses underscores the need to for the commission to take the time to study them before a vote.

Since then, the commission has made it clear that the agenda for the May 15 meeting is unchanged, and that the vote on the NPRM will take place as scheduled. In the meantime, Wheeler has circulated his proposed changes to the rest of the commission.

If it looks like things at the FCC aren't progressing as they have in the past, you'd be right. This is the first time I can remember when the commissioners have aired their differences with the chairman publicly.

In addition to the concerns expressed by Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has also said in a public statement that the vote should wait. Those are the two Democrats on the commission who would normally be expected to vote with Wheeler.

In Chairman Wheeler's defense, an NPRM is just that—a notice of a proposed rule. The purpose of an NPRM is to get the proposed rule out in public so that it's open to comment, so that it can be revised and so that the public can make suggested changes as part of the public comment process.

But of course, that's not what an NPRM was previously at the FCC. The practice in the past was always that the NPRM was hashed out behind closed doors, and only after a consensus was reached among a majority of the members voting was it ever seen in public. What that meant was that the NPRM was a de facto rule, requiring only the formality of a comment period before it was cast in stone. Only occasionally would the public comments change things.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...