FCC Approves Fast-Lane Proposal, Opens Comment Period

The Federal Communications Commission, which has drawn much criticism in recent weeks for a proposal seen by some as damaging to the idea of net neutrality, offered a preliminary approval of the proposal. The next step on the matter? 120 days of public comments.

The Federal Communications Commission, which has drawn criticism over proposed rules that some say will undermine net neutrality, gave the plan preliminary approval this week. The next step: 120 days of public comment.

The Federal Communications Commission’s much-talked-about open-internet proposal moved a step forward this week.

The vote on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to allow internet service providers to charge content companies higher fees for faster access to users drew protests outside agency headquarters on Thursday. The commission nevertheless approved the “fast lane” proposal 3-2, with Wheeler and the panel’s two other Democratic members backing it (although, in a concurring opinion, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel wrote, “I would have done this differently”). Next, a four-month public comment period will open up before the FCC makes a final decision on the rules.

Trade and advocacy groups offered a wide array of reactions to the proposal:

Encouraging “a light regulatory touch”: Two leading associations in the telecom space generally favored the proposed rules but objected to some of Wheeler’s recent additions, including the idea of treating internet access as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act. “Treating broadband as a utility-like Title II service would reverse years of settled precedent, dry up investment in broadband deployment and network upgrades, and result in protracted litigation and marketplace uncertainty,” wrote National Cable and Telecommunications Association CEO Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman. Steve Largent, CEO of CTIA: The Wireless Association, also expressed concern about the possible Title II service designation, though the group largely supported the plan otherwise.

“Nothing should be taken off the table”: Some groups known for their advocacy on internet issues emphasized that the proposal represents significant progress, even though a shift away from net neutrality principles appeared possible. Internet Association CEO Michael Beckerman encouraged an approach that gives the FCC the “legal tools” it needs to protect the open internet. “Protecting an open internet, free from discriminatory or anticompetitive actions by broadband gatekeepers, should be the cornerstone of net neutrality policy,” Beckerman said in a statement. Meanwhile, the advocacy group Public Knowledge emphasized that while more work needs to be done, the fact that the current FCC proposal includes several changes from prior versions “proves that the public is having an impact” on the debate. The startup group Engine Advocacy questioned whether Wheeler’s plan would encourage an open-internet path but welcomed the opportunity for discussion.

Those who would like to comment on the FCC’s open internet plan can do so via the commission’s website. Wheeler has said he aims to have final rules in place by the end of the year.


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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