Amid Protests, FCC Proceeds on Controversial Open Internet Proposal — Now You Can Speak Out
At the Federal Communications Commission's meeting on Thursday, taking the first step towards controversial new Open Internet rules, it seemed no one on either side of the political spectrum — inside or outside of the building — was entirely satisfied by the proposal. Nevertheless, the FCC voted to advance the process of adopting new rules that may drastically reshape the way the Internet works.
The FCC has been the subject of intense criticism in proposing new Open Internet rules to replace the 2010 net neutrality-friendly Open Internet regulatory structure that was struck down by a federal appeals court in January of this year. The new proposal, now in its second draft after several high profile critiques from IT companies and advocacy groups in the past few weeks, is different from the 2010 rules in an important way: it allows paid arrangements between companies and internet service providers for better quality of service as long as those deals are not "commercially unreasonable."
The idea of ISPs being allowed to give preferential treatment to any data — much less for pay — is antithetical to net neutrality's central idea that "all data should be treated equally." Critics have worried that discarding this principal would allow ISPs to create a "fast lane" for sites and services that can afford it, putting the democratic nature of the Internet at risk, which is why the FCC has been flooded with phone calls and emails recently, why demonstrators have been camped outside the FCC for days, and why Thursday's meeting began with a protester shouting and being escorted out of the room.
FCC Open Internet Meeting: Interrupted by Protests, No One Fully Agreed
It's also why none of the five commissioners seemed to support the new Open Internet proposal without reservations during the initial meeting on Thursday.
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who was the first to speak about the proposal and perhaps the most positive of the group, clarified that the FCC's vote on Thursday was not the final vote for approval but just the first in a process that will continue through the summer, ending in September. But in clarifying the issue at hand, Clyburn also raised a point of skepticism, though vicariously, stating, "When my mother calls with public policy concerns, I know that there is a problem."
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who previously expressed concerns with the process for reinstating a new version of the Open Internet rules, again said that she believed the FCC "moved too fast" and "would have preferred a delay."
"I support an open Internet. ... But I would have done this differently," Rosenworcel said. "I would have taken the time to consider the future." But Rosenworcel and Clyburn both ended up voting with Chairman Tom Wheeler to proceed, winning the motion 3 to 1 with the two Republican-appointed commissioners dissenting.
Neither Republican-appointed commissioner agreed with the proposal, though not because it could hand ISPs too much power. Both Commissioners Ajit Paik and Michael O'Rielly argued variously that the new Open Internet rules were too vague, untested, expansive and would stifle innovation without providing any benefits to consumers.
Chairman Wheeler spoke last after another brief interruption from a protester calling for a "free and open" internet while being escorted out of the room.
Wheeler attempted to clarify what the new measure was and was not, speaking forcefully at times to emphasize that he, too, supports an open internet.
"There is one Internet. It must be fast, it must be robust, and it must be open," Wheeler said. Reiterating what he had previously stated publically, Wheeler added, "The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable."
Wheeler defended the new measures, saying it would not create a "fast lane" or "slow lane" for consumers. He said consumers who paid for a certain speed of service from ISPs should always get the Internet delivered at that speed, and allowing for deals between some services and ISPs would be highly scrutinized, transparent, and would not be allowed to degrade the speeds customers were promised. He conspicuously did not address the question of whether some services being provided at what appears to be faster "bonus" speeds — imagine Netflix always working flawlessly on an otherwise cheap, so-so connection — would provide those services an unfair competitive advantage over others, like a startup video service, that couldn't afford to pay.
Wheeler also played up other only week-old parts of the proposal, added after the public outcry began to pick up momentum, like the public ombudsman that would be appointed to represent public grievances to the commission and his reiterated willingness to take a more sweeping regulatory route — reclassifying ISPs as essentially public utilities, which is an option under "Title II" of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 — if ISPs take advantage of the new system.
The Time to Speak on Record Is Now
As mentioned before, Thursday's FCC meeting did not put the new Open Internet rules in place. It just began the official process of considering them, along with alternatives like reclassification, as well as beginning a 120-day period to accept and reply to public comments on the record. The FCC will also soon release an official draft of the new Open Internet proposal to the public on its website, FCC.gov
"When the chairman hits the gavel, it will signal a start of 120 days of unique opportunity that each of you have in shaping," Commissioner Clyburn said. "One of the world's unique platforms ... the real call to action occurs after this happens."
The meeting is over; Chairman Wheeler has now banged the gavel. Whether you support or oppose the new Open Internet rules — or have a completely different idea of how to proceed — now is the time to let the FCC know on the record. Furthermore, you've got until July 15 to submit original comments and until Sept. 10 for "reply comments."
Email the FCC at email@example.com or call 1-888-225-5322 (CALL FCC) or submit your comment online here to make your opinion on the Open Internet and net neutrality part of the public record.
You can also email each FCC member directly though not part of the on-record public comment system:
Chairman Tom Wheeler: Tom.Wheeler@fcc.gov
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn: Mignon.Clyburn@fcc.gov
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel: Jessica.Rosenworcel@fcc.gov
Commissioner Ajit Pai: Ajit.Pai@fcc.gov
Commissioner Michael O'Rielly: Mike.O'Rielly@fcc.gov
Check out FCC.gov/leadership for each Commissioner's social media address -- if that's your thing.
And/or send physical mail to this address:
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, SW Washington, DC 20554
Whatever your take on the situation, make this a priority because you've only got 120 days to be heard.
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