WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to move forward with a set of proposed rules aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet, prohibiting high-speed Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against legal content flowing through their pipes.
While the plan is meant to prevent data from being knowingly slowed by Internet providers, it would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against content not sent along that lane.
Three Democratic commis- sioners on the five-member panel, including the chairman, Tom Wheeler, voted in favor of opening the plan to public comment. The plan will be open for comment for four months, beginning immediately.
The two Republicans who voted against the plan said it exceeded the agency’s legal authority, that there had been no evidence of actual harm or deviation from net neutrality principles, and that elected members of Congress should decide the issue, not regulatory appointees.
Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has been vocal on the issue, said in a statement: “Paid arrangements between broadband providers and websites do not reflect open Internet principles, and I will not support any effort by the FCC to condone those kinds of agreements. The very essence of net neutrality is that a better idea or service should be allowed to succeed on its merits and not have to pay tolls to reach potential customers. Rules allowing pay-to-play deals would also harm consumers, who could no longer be confident that the Internet speeds they pay for are sufficient to access the services they want.
“I appreciate that Chairman Wheeler is asking for comment on a range of proposals, including whether to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers, and is explicitly asking whether to ban pay-to-play deals. I look forward to exploring options for protecting an open Internet at the Senate Judiciary Committee field hearing that I will be holding in Vermont in July.”
FCC staff members explained that the proposal would aim to enhance the transparency rule that requires Internet service providers to tell consumers how they manage their traffic, a regulation that has been upheld by a court, and would set a “commercially reasonable” standard to judge conduct that is not covered by a blanket no-blocking rule.
The proposed rules would include an enforcement mechanism and establish an ombudsman to help investigate complaints from the public and provide guidance about the commission’s processes.
“We are dedicated to protecting and preserving an open Internet,” Wheeler said immediately before the commission vote. “What we’re dealing with today is a proposal, not a final rule. We are asking for specific comment on different approaches to accomplish the same goal — an open Internet.”
But Wheeler said the proposed rules did not deal with the connection between an Internet service provider, which provides a connection to consumers, and the operators of backbone transport networks that connect various portions of the Internet’s central plumbing.
That essentially means that as long as an Internet service provider does not slow down the service that a consumer pays for, the provider can give faster service to a company that pays to get its content to consumers in an unimpeded manner.
Meanwhile this week, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont delivered nearly 19,000 comments to the FCC protesting any undermining of net neutrality by allowing the creation of Internet fast lanes, reported The Hill and The Nation.
“Whether you run a huge website or a small blog,” Sanders said, “you should have equal access to Internet users without paying a ransom to providers like Comcast.”
During an hourlong Twitter conversation this week with FCC counsel Gigi Sohn, Sanders had “one of the more popular responses,” according to Social News Daily. “We must not let corporations turn profits by putting a price tag on the free flow of ideas,” Sanders tweeted.
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