In a vote that split panel members 3-2 today, the FCC moved forward with chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed Open Internet rules, which essentially revise the Commission's previous Open Internet rules that were struck down in January by a federal court in Verizon vs. FCC.
Wheeler’s new Open Internet rules have raised plenty of controversy since they were first leaked by the Wall Street Journal last month. Critics, including Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, have argued that the proposed rules open the door for “paid prioritization,” letting some Internet-based content providers pay for better access to consumers, provided that prioritization was “commercially reasonable.”
Public interest groups as well as many Internet and tech companies claim that it would lead to tiered service, higher prices, and unfairly benefit deep-pocketed online content providers at the expense of startups. In the face of this vocal outcry, Wheeler recently added language and made statements that he hoped would quell the concerns about paid prioritization—even opening up the question of whether it should be banned outright.
Consumers Union policy council Delara Derakhshani says that the organization still opposes the proposed rules. “The FCC tried to soften the blow by asking better questions about net neutrality and ‘pay-to-play’ deals, but the underlying plan is still far from neutral,” she said. “Net neutrality means all online content is treated equally. But under these rules, Internet providers could still make one site available faster than another.”
The 3-2 split in the FCC’s panel exposed a political rift over the issue, with the Commission’s two Republican commissioners voting against the three Democrats. And the partisan split extended beyond the Commission—House Republican leaders drafted an open letter to Wheeler arguing generally against any regulation of the Internet, and specifically against the possibility of regulation under Title II of the 1936 Telecommunications Act, which would classify Internet service providers (ISPs) as common carriers.
Consumers Union has long held that Title II regulation, which would essentially treat broadband service like telephone service, is in the best interest of consumers. “We still believe the best way to ensure an open Internet and protect consumers is reclassifying the Internet as a public utility," says Derakhshani.
Now the debate is officially open to the general public. Today’s vote initiated a 60-day public comment period that starts today. Anyone wishing to weigh in is invited to send a comment to the FCC.