Senate Dems protest FCC plan for Internet ‘fast lanes’

A group of 11 senators are asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to abandon a proposal that would allow Internet providers to create online “fast lanes.”

The proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would “irrevocably change the Internet as we know it,” the senators wrote in a letter to Wheeler on Friday.

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“Small businesses, content creators and Internet users must not be held hostage by an increasingly consolidated broadband industry.”

The letter comes days before the FCC’s scheduled May 15 vote on Wheeler’s attempts to rewrite his agency’s net neutrality rules.

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

Based on the court ruling, Wheeler’s new plan would allow Internet providers to charge websites for better access to users through “commercially reasonable” agreements.

Despite reassurances that the FCC will ensure these agreements don’t harm consumers or competition, net neutrality advocates have slammed Wheeler for his “fast lanes” proposal, arguing that it would create a tiered Internet where only deep-pocketed companies can afford to reach consumers.

In their letter, the senators said Wheeler’s proposal “would eradicate net neutrality, not preserve it.”

They told Wheeler that his plan goes against the agency’s commitment to an open Internet.

“The genius of the Internet is that it allows innovation without permission, not innovation only after cutting a deal with the [Internet provider] and receiving the FCC’s blessing for it,” the letter said.

Instead of Wheeler’s current plans, the agency should consider reclassifying Internet providers to make them more like traditional phone companies, over which the agency has clear authority to regulate more broadly.

The proposal being voted on next week “should facilitate discussion of the best option for protecting the Open Internet — not merely accept that the Commission has no choice but to permit toll lanes and other kinds of unreasonable discrimination.”

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-- This post was updated at 7:37 p.m.