Advocacy groups blast ‘hybrid’ Web rules

Dozens of left-leaning, civil liberties and public interest groups are forcefully opposing what they see as a flawed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempt to write new rules for the Internet.

Supporters of strong net neutrality regulations — which seek to ensure that all Internet traffic is treated equally — on Friday sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler warning against a “hybrid” plan reportedly under consideration.

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The reported proposal is a “convoluted proposal for new rules that jeopardizes the agency’s ability to protect all Internet users,” wrote more than 60 groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress and MoveOn.org.

“This is not what the public wants or what President Obama promised the American public.”

According to The Wall Street Journal, the plan that Wheeler is close to settling on would effectively enact two different sets of rules for broadband Internet service: one for the connections between individual users and their Internet service providers and a separate one for those service providers and websites. The FCC would reclassify that second, back-end portion so that the agency could regulate it using the same legal powers it has to oversee traditional phone service. 

The plan has been broadly denounced as a hybrid of two different frameworks that pleases nobody.

Major cable and Internet companies have rejected the plan, because it would reclassify some portion of broadband Internet service — a step they have warned is not only likely illegal but would saddle the Web with utility-style regulations.

Supporters of strong rules, meanwhile, have said that it would be a largely toothless move that would still allow Web providers to cut deals with websites to speed up users’ service. Critics warn that would lead to “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on the Internet.

The dozens of advocacy groups seemed to agree with industry groups in one sense, however: in their letter on Friday, they too warned Wheeler that his reported plan is “unlikely to survive litigation.”