updated 12:34 pm EDT, Thu May 15, 2014
Chairman's vision of 'fast lane' access may be misinterpreted by public
The Federal Communication Commission has voted on Chairman Tom Wheeler's revised net neutrality proposal, and has accepted it. Starting immediately, the US government will begin a long period of debate and public comment on the issue, which has already proven contentious amongst both Capital Hill insiders as well as the public at large.
Wheeler's proposal for net neutrality prevents companies from downgrading Internet traffic in their own favor, but also opens up the opportunity for Internet service providers to charge extra for faster content delivery, codifying such deals as those penned by Netflix with Comcast and Verizon. Changes have been made since the initial leak, with Wheeler claiming that the FCC will not tolerate actions by ISPs that "degrade the service for all for the benefit of a few." The chairman has threatened to regulate the Internet under "common carrier" laws, should the ISPs fail to abide by regulations set forth by the FCC, or if they abuse the "fast lane" concept in any way.
The meeting was briefly interrupted by protesters of the proposal, some who have camped out in front of the FCC offices for days before the vote. Disrupting the meeting, the protesters decried the idea of a "tiered" Internet, and had to be removed by security before the meeting continued. Criticizing the protesters, Wheeler said following the removal that "we're going to move thorough this process today, and disruption doesn't help getting to the point where the American people can provide input to the process."
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel did note in the hearing that the proposal voted on today had seen several significant changes, as well as language clarification before today's vote. Republicans on the committee were displeased by the changes, and were seemingly irritated by the lack of openness in the proposal modification process, claiming to have received notification of changes well after the Democratic members of the commission.
The Republican members of the commission, Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly voted down the proposal. The commissioner, Rosenworcel, and ex-commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted to adopt the proposal, sending it into a 60-day public comment period.
In today's hearing, Wheeler declared that "there is one Internet. Not a fast Internet, not a slow Internet; one Internet," attempting to buttress his proposal to allow for faster paid speeds for Internet companies willing and able to pay the fees. "Personally, I don't like the idea that the Internet could be divided into haves and have-nots, and I will work to see that does not happen," he said -- seemingly at odds with both his initial and second-draft attempts to codify faster-access deals for some content providers.