Grassroots Outcry Pushes FCC Chair to Backpedal on Internet Rules

Federal Communications Commission chair Tom Wheeler is backpedaling on his proposed rules that would threaten the democracy of the Internet, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday evening.

The updated draft follows widespread outcry against Wheeler’s proposal, unveiled last month, which would allow Internet service providers to charge an extra fee to content companies for preferential treatment in the form of “fast lanes,” effectively marginalizing the content of users who do not pay. Critics charged that this “pay-to-play” model would threaten the democratic nature of the open Internet, destroying net neutrality.

However, supporters of an open Internet say that the changes fall short and are a “non-fix,” according to TechCrunch, because they preserve the option of pay-for-speed.

According to the WSJ,

The one significant change reported by the WSJ, according to advocates, is that Wheeler is now seeking comment on whether broadband Internet service should be reclassified as a public utility—instead of its current classification as an information service—which would allow for it to be subject to greater regulation. In the past, Internet service providers, or ISPs, have fiercely opposed such a move.

The new rules are set to be voted on as a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) during a May 15th FCC meeting. The NPRM both serves as a proposal to issue new regulations and an invitation for the public to comment on it.


Ahead of the vote, protesters are camping outside of the FCC building, and thousands of activists are set to partake in a rally and day of action on Thursday.

“Chairman Wheeler is starting to feel the grassroots pressure against his pay-for-prioritization proposal. But none of his recent statements go far enough to give Internet users the Net Neutrality protections that they demand,” Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, said in a statement to Common Dreams.

Aaron, however, welcomed the proposal to reclassify the Internet, adding that Wheeler must “abandon the flimsy and failed legal approach of his predecessors and reclassify Internet service providers as the common carriers they are. If preventing fast and slow lanes on the Internet is the goal, reclassification is the way forward.”

Barbara van Schewick and Morgan Weiland with Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society note that, assuming the rules still allow paid prioritization as WSJ reports, “the substance of the Chairman’s proposal hasn’t changed.”

“So instead of an Internet with a slow lane and a fast lane, the new proposal might result in an Internet that offers a ‘not-so-fast, but not totally crappy lane’ to applications that don’t pay and a ‘faster lane’ to those that do,” they write.

Van Schewick and Weiland continue:


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