Lawmakers assail net neutrality revamp

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is facing criticism from both sides of the aisle over his plans to revamp the Obama administration's net neutrality rules.

While congressional Democrats accused Wheeler of not going far enough to protect the open Internet, Republicans criticized the FCC for trying to bring back rules that were struck down in federal court earlier this year.

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On Thursday, Wheeler laid out his proposal to rewrite his agency's net neutrality rules, which kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites before they were struck down in court.

Under Wheeler's proposal, the agency would require Internet providers to supply content companies like Netflix with a baseline level of access to subscribers. Internet providers and content companies would then be free to strike "commercially reasonable" deals to improve access to subscribers.

The agency will vote on Wheeler's proposal in its open meeting on May 15.

Democrats who have pushed for net neutrality in the past slammed Wheeler for wanting to allow Internet "fast lanes" for deep-pocketed content companies.

"We need to retain the ability of all Internet users to communicate and compete on a level playing field, preventing the presence of fast and slow lanes that are contrary to the essence of the Internet," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement on Thursday.

"The Internet's rules of the road must not open up fast lanes to those who can pay, leaving others stuck in traffic," he said. Markey pledged to "closely review the proposal and work to ensure that it properly safeguards the openness and vitality of the Internet for all users, entrepreneurs and our economy for generations to come."

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Commerce subcommittee on communications, said she fears "that the latest round of proposed net neutrality rules from the FCC will not do enough to curtail discrimination of Internet traffic, but rather leave the door open to discrimination under more ambiguous terms."

The FCC needs to ensure that these "commercially reasonable" deals between Internet providers and content companies leave "zero uncertainty ... in the minds of consumers, small businesses and innovators that they are competing on a level playing field with their peers," she said.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) called for "strong and clear net neutrality rules" and said she is "hopeful that through working with various stakeholders in the Internet ecosystem, the Chairman will propose a set of rules that will accomplish this goal."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) called Wheeler's plan a "terribly misguided proposal."

Under the proposal, "the Internet as we have come to know it would cease to exist and the average American would be the big loser," he said in a statement.

"We must not let private corporations turn bigger and bigger profits by putting a price tag on the free flow of ideas. We must not turn over our democracy to the highest bidder."

Meanwhile, Republicans who have opposed the net neutrality rules for years accused Wheeler of trying to resurrect unnecessary restraints on Internet providers.

“We have said repeatedly that the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules are a solution in search of a problem," Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in a statement.

Upton and Walden are chairmen of the House Commerce Committee and Commerce subcommittee on communications, respectively.

"The marketplace has thrived and will continue to serve customers and invest billions annually to meet Americans’ broadband needs without these rules," the pair said.

"Chairman Wheeler's approach to regulation seeks to freeze current market practices, which will cast a chill on technological breakthroughs and cause American consumers to lose out."

Rather than rewriting the rules, the FCC should "focus on areas where its work will foster new innovation, competition, and job creation,” they said.

— This story was updated at 4:17 p.m.