FCC Dems eye strong ‘fast lane’ rules

Two Democratic members of the Federal Communications Commission are pushing for strong rules banning Internet service providers from adjusting users’ speeds depending on which websites they visit.

Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel — two of the five-member commission’s three Democrats — spoke at a hearing in Sacramento, Calif., on  Wednesday, and seemed to push for rules prohibiting companies from meddling with people's service on their computers or mobile devices.

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“I believe the FCC must find a way to put open Internet policies back in place because we cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind,” Rosenworcel said, referring to the official name for rules on net neutrality — the idea that Web providers like Comcast should treat all Internet traffic equally.

The plan proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the panel’s other Democrat, would seem to allow those “fast lane” deals to speed up traffic for a website like Netflix or YouTube, as long as the agreements were “commercially reasonable.”

The proposal has led to a massive backlash, largely from critics on the left who fear it would undermine freedom on the Internet.

Some have urged the FCC to turn to the legal authority that it uses to regulate phone companies. That would be a drastic step that would surely draw lawsuits from Republicans and cable companies that have already warned against it.

Rosenworcel, however, said she was “pleased” that Wheeler is seriously considering the controversial move.

Mignon used her time on Wednesday to indicate that the new Internet rules should also apply to smartphones and tablets operating wirelessly, a change from the FCC’s previous rules that were tossed out by a court earlier this year.

People’s use of mobile devices to access the Internet “looks quite different than it did in 2010” when the previous rules were written, she said.

“To me this means that we need to be careful to avoid creating differing or different standards for rules on Wi-Fi and mobile,” Clyburn added.

The hearing was hosted by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), a proponent of strong rules who earlier this year introduced a bill to ban “fast lane” deals on the Internet.

The FCC’s two Republican commissioners voted against Wheeler’s plan earlier this year and look certain to oppose whatever rules the agency does issue. As a result, Rosenworcel and Clyburn have extra leverage to demand strong regulations from Wheeler; new rules need three votes to be approved.