FCC should support an open Internet

Reclassifying the Internet as a public utility is the best way to protect consumers and maintain Net neutrality

Published: May 16, 2014 05:00 PM
Don't clog up the Internet with rules that hurt consumers.

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An open Internet means you can visit any website or online service, because your Internet service provider, or ISP, treats every site and service the same. That’s the basic idea behind the term “net neutrality.” It means that Comcast, Verizon, and other ISPs should treat all online traffic on their networks equally, whether it’s a big corporation such as Amazon or a scrappy start-up.

Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, believes that the Federal Communications Commission should support an open Internet. Net neutrality is essential because it helps ensure that you have access to a wide array of choices in a competitive online marketplace. Your ISP shouldn’t play favorites among sites, providing faster streaming, for example, to those who pay for preferential treatment over other sites.

The FCC has been wrestling with rules to ensure the principles of Net neutrality are applied to the Internet. The FCC established a set of Open Internet rules in 2010, but Verizon sued, and a federal court struck down the rules in a decision earlier this year. So the FCC went back to the drawing board.

Last month, the FCC proposed new Net neutrality rules, but they were met with sharp criticism from public interest groups, including Consumers Union, and even some tech companies, which said they believed the rules could allow ISPs to charge online companies for higher-quality delivery of their content to consumers.

The FCC brought this initial plan up for a vote on May 15. In response to concerns that the proposal could lead to a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes and slow lanes for Web traffic, the FCC is asking the public for comment on whether so-called paid prioritization deals should be banned, and whether the Internet should be regulated as a public utility.

Consumer Union opposes such deals, and we maintain that reclassifying the Internet as a public utility is the best way to protect consumers and maintain Net neutrality.

The FCC’s public meeting about the rules included some encouraging words from commissioners about the need for an open Internet, but the agency’s plan still appears to go against the principles of ensuring one. We believe the current plan could negatively affect consumer prices, choices, and access to the Internet, and free speech and innovation.

The FCC voted 3-2 to advance the rules, but this is not the end of the debate. For the next four months, the FCC is asking people to speak up about the rules. This fall, the agency will consider a final set of rules, which will likely be updated and revised based on the public response.

A handful of powerful ISPs, incuding Comcast and Verizon, shouldn’t be able to determine the future of the Internet. That's why we urge you to send your thoughts to the FCC. The agency has set up a new inbox for comments at openinternet@fcc.gov

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

Read other installments of our Policy & Action feature.

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