Net Neutrality: FCC Votes in Favor of Advancing Web Proposal

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 yesterday in favor of moving forward with proposed rules that would allow broadband providers to charge individual companies extra for preferential handling of online traffic. The ongoing debate has divided tech companies regarding the best path to keeping the Internet open. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal would ban providers from blocking or slowing sites, but leaves open the possibility of deals for access to so-called “fast lanes.”

The Commission voted to open the proposal to public review for 120 days, with the intent to vote on final rules later in the year.

“While broadband providers like Comcast Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. are firmly against stronger regulatory oversight of the industry — a possibility that the commission opened up for comment — they have indicated that Mr. Wheeler’s proposal as it stands is something they could live with,” reports The Wall Street Journal.

“That lines them up against Internet companies — including Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Amazon.com Inc., as well as small startups — which are vehemently opposed to any arrangements that allows broadband providers to charge content companies extra for preferential treatment.”

Netflix, which is responsible for a significant share of Internet bandwidth, said in a statement that it is “not interested in a fast lane,” and is “concerned that the proposed approach could legalize discrimination,” harm innovation, and punish consumers.

In our daily email alerts, ETCentric has posted links in recent weeks to stories that detail how Wheeler’s proposal has led to an array of reactions within the tech, media, and telecom industries, in addition to the response from numerous activists that claim more must be done and conservatives who oppose additional regulations or rules. (You can access some of those stories below.)

“Wheeler’s plan is an attempt to thread the needle through all these camps in the debate over ‘net neutrality’ — the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally — but his approach has found few fans since it was unveiled,” explains WSJ.

“Telecom lawyers say that by opening the door to the paid deals for traffic handling, Mr. Wheeler has a better shot at satisfying the courts, which have twice struck down previous FCC attempts at Internet rules. An appeals court in January essentially indicated to the commission that if it wanted to ban the deals, it would have to reclassify broadband as a public utility. Leaving the door open to the agreements is a way for the commission to impose the no-blocking rule while stopping short of the reclassification.”

Amazon, Cisco, Facebook, Google, Netflix and Yahoo are just some of the tech giants that have expressed concern with Wheeler’s proposal. However, a related WSJ article points out that, “Critics of the proposal have said the biggest impact won’t be on giant tech companies, but rather startups whose services are bandwidth-intensive and which can’t afford to pay Web tolls as easily as bigger rivals.

Related Stories:
FCC Head to Revise Broadband-Rules Plan, The Wall Street Journal, 5/11/14
House GOP Leadership Calls for FCC to Abandon Proposed Net Neutrality RegulationTechCrunch, 5/15/14
Internet Providers Urge FCC Not to Reclassify Broadband as a UtilityLos Angeles Times, 5/14/14
ISPs Claim That if the FCC Reclassifies the Internet as a Utility, “Paid Prioritization” Wouldn’t Be Banned, TechCrunch, 5/13/14
All of the Bands You Listened to in High School Oppose FCC Chairman’s Net Neutrality Plan, The Washington Post, 5/13/14
Comcast Wants to Put Data Caps on All Customers Within 5 Years, TechCrunch, 5/15/14
Netflix’s Share of Internet Traffic Grows, The Wall Street Journal, 5/14/14
Netflix’s Many-Pronged Plan to Eliminate Video Playback Problems, Ars Technica, 5/13/14
Sprint Slams on the Breaks for Top 5% of Data Users in Congested Areas, FierceWireless, 5/8/14