Cable groups reject floated ‘fast lane’ plan

A reported plan at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate Internet service providers is coming under attack from all sides.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is settling on a “hybrid” net neutrality proposal that would involve partially reclassifying broadband Internet service to give the agency more power, according to The Wall Street Journal.

ADVERTISEMENT
But advocates on both sides of the issue aren’t happy about it.

The head of USTelecom, a broadband industry trade group, called the approach “byzantine” and said it “defies legal precedent and common sense.”

The FCC proposal “would be an invitation to protracted litigation,” group president Walter McCormick said, and “would only guarantee continued uncertainty and debate well into the next administration.”

The plan, reported by the Journal late on Thursday, would have the FCC split broadband Internet into two separate categories — one between customers and Internet providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable, and another between those service providers and other websites. The agency would then use tougher “common carrier” rules — similar to those that it has for traditional phone service — on the service between websites and Internet providers.

Industry groups have strongly pushed back on the possibility of reclassifying broadband Internet service to regulate them like traditional phone lines. While advocates of net neutrality — who want strong rules to ensure that Internet service companies treat all online traffic the same — have supported the move, many industry groups have said they would be too strict and likely illegal.

On Twitter, AT&T said that the agency’s use of the common carrier rules “would be problematic.” 

Verizon had previously warned that any attempt to reclassify broadband Internet,  even a hybrid one, would not stand legal muster. 

The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, another trade group, would also oppose the reported plan, a spokesman said.

Wheeler’s reported plan may still allow companies to cut deals to create “fast lanes” on the Internet, according to the Journal, which equally upset many liberal activists.

Anna Galland, the executive director of MoveOn’s advocacy arm warned on Friday that Wheeler’s new plan would “undermine” net neutrality and “betray” President Obama’s plans to ban “fast lanes.”

Fight for the Future, an activist group, said that Wheeler ought to be fired over his “sham proposal.”

Still, Public Knowledge, a public interest group that has backed strong rules, sounded cautiously optimistic.

“Although there are many details that do not appear to have been worked out, we are confident that the proposal they're considering could use Title II and other regulatory tools in a manner that effectively addresses the most important issues in the debate,” group president Gene Kimmelman said in a statement. Title II of the Communications Act governs rules for common carrier services.

Still, Kimmelman called for the FCC to ban online “fast lanes” that could harm the public. 

This post was updated at 2:56 p.m.