With a narrow 3-2 vote Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission has advanced a proposal that could mean not every person or Internet provider in the U.S. would have the same access to the Internet. The net neutrality rules moved forward today would mean Internet providers could charge companies for faster and more reliable service. If companies don't pay up, they could be forced to deal with slower Internet speeds.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the proposal will be good for both consumers and business, but cautioned that Thursday's ruling is only another step in the right direction for the proposal. It is not a final order, but an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposal.
"Protecting the Open Internet is important both to consumers and to economic growth," Wheeler said. "We are dedicated to protecting and preserving an Open Internet. What we are dealing with today is a proposal, not a final rule. With this Notice we are specifically asking for input on different approaches to accomplish the same goal: an Open Internet."
The notice of the rules passed Thursday, according to the FCC, also increase transparency for Internet access, enable a 'no blocking' rule for individual Internet access and that priority serviced offered exclusively by a broadband provider to a content provider would be considered illegal. Wheeler said he would work to make sure the "fast lanes" many are concerned about with paying for faster service would not come to fruition.
"The potential for there to be some kind of 'fast lane' available to only a few has many people concerned," Wheeler said. "Personally, I don’t like the idea that the Internet could become divided into “haves” and “have nots.” I will work to see that does not happen."
FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn said approval of the net neutrality rules would prevent the exact 'fast lanes' many critics of the regulation.
"At its core, an open Internet means that consumers, not a company, not the government, determine winners and losers," Clyburn said in a statement. "It is the free market at its best. All of this, however, does not nor will it ever, occur organically. Without rules governing a free and open Internet it is possible that companies – fixed and wireless broadband providers – could independently determine whether they want to discriminate or block content, pick favorites, charge higher fees or distort the market.
The two commissioners who voted against the measure gave staunch defenses of their votes.
"It should come as no surprise that I cannot support today’s Notice," said FCC commissioner Michael O'Rielly in a statement. "As I’ve said before, the premise for imposing net neutrality rules is fundamentally flawed and rests on a faulty foundation of make-believe statutory authority. I have serious concerns that this ill-advised item will create damaging uncertainty and head the Commission down a slippery slope of regulation.
"... the proposed net neutrality rules and legal theories will stifle innovation and investment by the private sector, provide no help to consumers, and thrust the Commission into a place it shouldn’t be," O'Rielly continued.
Citing a January D.C. district court of appeals ruling and after former Google CEO, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said the proposal would not benefit the general public. Pai said the almost every poll shows the public is firmly against the FCC's proposed legislation.
"A few years ago, Google’s then-CEO, Eric Schmidt, was quoted as saying: 'The Internet is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand.' If that is so, every American who cares about the future of the Internet should be wary about five unelected officials deciding its fate," Pai said in a statement released Thursday after the ruling. "After the U.S. Court of Appeals here in Washington struck down the agency’s latest attempt to regulate broadband providers’ network management practices,2 I recommended that the Commission seek guidance from Congress instead of plowing ahead yet again on its own. In my view, recent events have only confirmed the wisdom of that approach."
It was only in January when a court struck down what was then the FCC's proposed net neutrality regulations.
"Perhaps most troubling, the Commission fails to appreciate the long-term impact of its own regulations," The United States Court of Appeals in D.C. writes. "An unwarranted government interference in a functioning market is likely to persist indefinitely, whereas a failure to intervene, even when regulation would be helpful, is likely to be only temporarily harmful because new innovations are constantly undermining entrenched industrial powers."
If you wish to comment on the FCC net neutrality rules, you can email the commission at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you do, all information you submit (message, name, address, etc.) will be publicly viewable.