Web lobby chief: Young people key to stopping Internet 'fast lanes'

Young people who are fluent with the Internet will be crucial in convincing the Federal Communications Commission to prevent “fast lanes” online, according to the head of a major Internet lobbying group.

That includes regulators' own children and grandchildren.

“You’re going to be hearing from the granddaughters and the grandsons and the children of older members of Congress and regulators, because that’s the side that they’re on,” Internet Association Chief executive Michael Beckerman said on Bloomberg’s “Market Makers” on Wednesday.

Beckerman, whose group represents Web titans including Google and AOL, compared the public lobbying over the FCC’s new proposal for regulating online traffic to the 2012 congressional battle over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA). Web activists were incredibly influential in stopping those two bills, which they warned would limit freedom of expression online.

Since then, lawmakers and agency regulators in Washington have taken Internet users’ comments more seriously, Beckerman said. 

“I think that certainly has changed Washington’s perception of technology and Internet companies and the power of Internet users,” he added.

So far, the FCC has received well over 1 million comments from the public on its new net neutrality plans, which Internet companies and left-leaning groups have warned would allow wealthy websites to strike expensive deals with service providers like Comcast to give their users faster online speeds.

That’s more comments than the commission has ever received on a proposed rule. In response to the pressure, the FCC’s comment system crashed twice and the commission extended the deadline for a number of days earlier this month.

“That’s a SOPA-like outpouring of support in favor of an open Internet,” Beckerman said.

Some activists and tech companies like Netflix have urged the FCC to take the radical step of reclassifying broadband Internet providers so that they can be regulated like phone companies, which are saddled with tighter controls. 

The Internet Association has avoided that call, however.

Instead, Beckerman said that the commission should “use all the authority they have” to ensure equal treatment of all content on the Web, while adding that he wasn’t specifically advocating for reclassification.