FCC plan for Internet 'fast lanes' in jeopardy

 

The net neutrality overhaul proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was thrown in doubt on Wednesday as the agency's two Democratic members expressed serious concerns with the proposal.

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With the commission’s two Republican members expected to vote against the plan, Wheeler needs the votes of Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn to get it enacted.

Speaking at a public event Wednesday, Rosenworcel threw cold water on Wheeler's plans to rewrite the net neutrality rules to allow Internet “fast lanes” and called on him to delay consideration of his proposal, which is now scheduled for May 15.

“I … support an open Internet. So I have real concerns about FCC Chairman Wheeler’s proposal on network neutrality,” she said in prepared remarks.

Last month, Wheeler announced that he would rewrite the net neutrality rules to allow Internet providers to charge content companies for better access to subscribers.

Before they were struck down by a federal court earlier this year, the FCC’s original net neutrality rules kept Internet providers from blocking or slowing access to certain websites.

Critics slammed Wheeler’s new plans, claiming that the “fast lanes” run afoul of the ultimate goal of net neutrality by allowing deep-pocketed content companies to get a boost over others.

Wheeler defended his proposal, pledging that the agency would make sure that any agreements to boost traffic do not hurt consumers or competition. 

Additionally, the agency said it would require Internet providers to supply content companies with a baseline level of access to subscribers to ensure that websites and online services can work as intended.

Wheeler’s assurances have not quelled concerns from public interest advocates, critics in Congress and citizens, many of whom have signed petitions and filed comments at the FCC opposing the new net neutrality rules.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Clyburn pledged to take the negative feedback into account heading into next week's vote.

"Over 100,000 Americans have spoken. ... I am listening to your voices as I approach this critical vote to preserve an ever-free and open Internet," she wrote.

She also pointed to her pervious calls to have the agency prohibit "pay for priority arrangements all together."

Rosenworcel called on Wheeler to delay the agency’s consideration of Wheeler’s net neutrality proposal for one month in light of the backlash.

“I believe that rushing headlong into a rulemaking next week fails to respect the public response to his proposal,” she said.

Without that delay, the FCC must stop accepting public comment on the proposal in accordance with its transparency rules.

She pointed to “the torrent of public response” the agency has received after announcing its intention to rewrite the rules.

“We need to respect that input and we need time for that input,” she said, pointing to “tens of thousands of e-mails, hundreds of calls, commentary all across the Internet.”

Wheeler responded to the Democrats' concerns by saying that the vote next week will open the door for more public debate on his proposal.

"Chairman Wheeler fully supports a robust public debate on how best to protect the Open Internet, which is why he intends to put forward his proposals for public comment next week," a spokesman said in a statement.

"Moving forward will allow the American people to review and comment on the proposed plan without delay, and bring us one step closer to putting rules on the books to protect consumers and entrepreneurs online."

— This post was updated at 6:37 p.m.

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