The Federal Communications Commission today voted 3-2 in favor of a preliminary proposal that critics allege would allow broadband providers to create a premium 'fast lane' that will disadvantage content providers without deep pockets.
The proposed net neutrality rules have come under fire from just about every major tech company in America earlier this week including Google, Netflix, Reddit and Yahoo, who say a segregated internet will stifle competition and innovation and hurt consumers.
The backlash from major tech players and ordinary individuals led FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to revise the proposal and expand its requests for comment, including whether or not to reclassify the internet as a public utility or to allow paid prioritization.
Before the vote, Wheeler offered assurances that despite widespread news reports, the secret proposal does not outline rules that allow ISPs to charge content distributors to prioritize their traffic.
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"Nothing in this proposal authorized paid prioritization despite what has been incorrectly stated today,” Wheeler said. “I don't like the idea that the Internet could be divided into haves and have-nots and I will work to see that that does not happen.”
Wheeler expanded, saying it makes no sense to allow content distributors to pay ISPs for faster delivery because the consumer has already paid for the bandwidth.
“When content provided by a firm such as Netflix reaches a network provider it would be commercially unreasonable to charge the content provider to use that bandwidth for which the consumer had already paid, and therefore prohibited,” Wheeler said. “When a consumer purchases specified network capacity from an Internet provider, he or she is buying open capacity, not capacity a network provider can prioritize for their own purposes.”
The chairman also said he was open to reclassifying the internet under Title 2 of the Communications Act, giving the FCC more authority over broadband, similar to its authority over telecommunications.
Broadband providers argue that such an approach would hurt their own innovation and give them less room to improve their networks, also hurting consumers.
The 3-2 vote fractured on party lines, with Wheeler, a Democrat, and commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn voting in favor of the proposal and Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly voting against it.
Rosenworcel, who is against a segregated internet, had earlier called for a delay on the vote but said she was happy to see Wheeler put “all options on the table,” Ars Technica reported.
Pai reportedly said he doesn’t believe such a decision should be left to “five unelected officials” and O’Rielly said the FCC is overreaching its authority.
“The consideration we are beginning today is not about whether the internet must be open but how and when we will have rules in place to insure an open internet,” Wheeler said before the vote, “opening the discussion to all Americans.”