FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has called for the Federal Communications Commission to delay its current May 15 plans to address new rulemaking around net neutrality, the term for an Internet that treats all traffic equally.
The issue is a contentious one and has grown more so amid reports that new FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is open to the idea of allowing companies to pay Internet service providers (ISPs) additional fees for even speedier service.
Rosenworcel, speaking at a Chief Officers of State Libraries event in Washington, D.C., May 7, asked for a delay of at least a month before discussing the matter at an Open Commission Meeting, as well as an extension to the period during which the FCC can accept public comment on the issue.
“I believe that rushing headlong into a rulemaking next week fails to respect the public response to [Wheeler’s] proposal,” Rosenworcel said.
“At a minimum, I think we need to recognize this is not business as usual. … I think it’s a mistake to cut off public debate right now as we head into consideration of the Chairman’s proposal,” she continued. “We have a challenging set of court decisions that have led us to this point. So I think the agency’s legal staff should be holding forth, answering questions, and explaining what is before us with regular sessions—not in Washington, but over the Internet, through social media, and broadly accessible to the public.”
Wheeler, in an April 24 blog post, said his new draft of the Open Internet Notice on Proposed Rulemaking will insist that ISPs be transparent about their policies, that no legal content may be blocked and that ISPs can’t act in a “commercially unreasonable manner.”
He didn’t, however, deny his openness to pay-for-priority rules and, paired with the vagueness of “commercially unreasonable,” the blog post served as confirmation of Wheeler’s position and elicited a consumer and industry backlash.
The consumer movement group SumOfUs started a petition to tell two congressional subcommittees to “save the Internet.”
“The proposed FCC rules would change the Internet from what we know now to something more like corporate television—a place where faster Internet would be reserved for the giant corporations willing to pay to cut the line,” says the petition.
A similar petition has circulated on Change.org.
Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter and a total of 149 major online companies also added their voices to the issue May 7, signing an open letter that called on Wheeler and the Commission to “protect users and Internet companies … against blocking, discrimination and paid prioritization.”
With popular opinion not falling in line behind Wheeler (a former telecom lobbyist), Rosenworcel isn’t the only commissioner making clear where she stands.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said in a May 7 FCC blog post that since 2010 she’s made clear her opposition to pay-for-priority arrangements.
“I am listening to your voices as I approach this critical vote,” she added, referring to the “over 100,000 Americans” who have spoken up about the matter.
Commissioner Ajit Pai also released a brief statement May 8, agreeing with Rosenworcel.
“I have grave concerns about the Chairman’s proposal on Internet regulation,” Pai said, “and do not believe it should be considered at the Commission’s May meeting.”