Grassroots Outcry Pushes FCC Chair to Backpedal on Internet Rules

Advocates say new draft does not go far enough, call for Internet to be reclassified as public utility

- Lauren McCauley, CommonDreams staff writer

(Image: Free Press)

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 an "non-fix," according to TechCrunch, because they preserve the option of pay-for-speed.

According to the WSJ,

In the new draft, Mr. Wheeler is sticking to the same basic approach but will include language that would make clear that the FCC will scrutinize the deals to make sure that the broadband providers don't unfairly put nonpaying companies' content at a disadvantage, according to an agency official.

The official said the draft would also seek comment on whether such agreements, called "paid prioritization," should be banned outright, and look to prohibit the big broadband companies, such as Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc., from doing deals with some content companies on terms that they aren't offering to others.

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:

If we want to protect the Internet as a platform for free speech, application innovation, and economic growth, we need to ban pay-to-play access fees and adopt a bright-line non-discrimination rule that bans discrimination against applications or classes of applications. Users, entrepreneurs, investors, and public interest groups have already moved the debate in the right direction, getting reclassification off the table and into the NPRM.

If we want an open Internet and the rules necessary to preserve it, we have to continue to make our voices heard and work hard to educate and convince the FCC, the White House, and members of Congress.

_____________________

 

Prepare to Take Action to Defend Net Neutrality

Prepare to Take Action to Defend Net Neutrality. Here’s How the FCC Makes Its Rules.

by April Glaser

(Credit: Free Press)

It’s been hard to go a day without hearing news about the Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, and his highly contested plan for the future of network neutrality.  Google and Netflix signed a letter with nearly 150 other Internet companies calling on the FCC to reconsider its plan, which would purportedly bless the creation of “Internet fast lanes.” Over a million people across the country have spoken out against that idea, worried that a “pay to play” Internet will be less hospitable to competition, innovation, and expression.

And while Chairman Wheeler and his fellow commissioners have been blogging about the FCCs proposal, no text has been released to the pubic. Not yet, anyway.

But mark your calendars. This Thursday, May 15th, the FCC will finally unveil its “Open Internet” proposal. The last two weeks have been packed with statements, previewing what we can expect for Thursday, and it’s not pretty. It’s time for Internet users to make some statements of their own.  

The FCC is calling for public input – let’s make sure they get it.  To help make that happen, we’re creating an easy tool to help the public speak out on May 15th and for the next 30-60 days while the FCC collects public comments on its proposed rules.

How does FCC rulemaking work?

When the FCC makes new rules, the agency goes through a series of steps to craft policies that are in the best interest of the public. Let’s break it down:

  1. First, the FCC issues a proposal for what the potential rules might looks like. That proposal is called a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPRM).
  2. Almost immediately after the NPRM is released, the FCC opens a window to solicit public comment on how the proposal will effect Americans.
  3. This is where you come in. The FCC wants to hear from you. On May 15th, EFF will launch our public comment tool to help you submit your thoughts directly to the FCC.

These comments are a matter of public record. That means that once you submit a comment, it lands on the FCC’s public docket, and anyone can see it.

The FCC is required to respond to the public comments. And sometimes after a public comment window, the FCC will still have more questions. When this happens, the agency opens a “Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” and another subsequent public comment window to solicit answers to their questions. It won’t be until after this long process that we see what the FCC’s new rules look like.

The whole rulemaking process can up to a year, so we need to be in this for the long haul. Be prepared to comment and call Congress as the issue progresses.

Raise your voice!

Although the public comment window is the official way to participate in the FCC rulemaking process, it’s certainly not the only way to get involved.

On May 15th, organizations across the country are staging a massive protest outside of the FCC building in Washington, D.C. If you’re in the Washington, D.C. area this Thursday, you can join the protest in person at 9am EST. It’ll be a huge event and some activists have already been camping outside the FCC for the past few days to ensure that the agency gets the message loud and clear: ISPs should never be allowed to pick winners and losers online.

Ultimately, the FCC receives its marching orders from Congress. And on May 20th, Chairman Wheeler is scheduled to testify to the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Congress is planning to quiz Wheeler about what’s going on at the FCC, and you can bet that net neutrality will make up the bulk of the conversation.

We need to be sure to on call Congress to set the FCC straight. More on that soon. In the meantime, get ready for May 15th, and tell your friends. We’ll only have a month or two to make sure that the FCC knows once and for all: It’s our Internet, and we’re going to fight to protect it.

 

April Glaser is a staff activist at EFF, where she focuses on community outreach and blogs about a wide range of digital rights issues. She works directly with community organizations interested in promoting free speech, privacy, and innovation in digital spaces, and she lectures frequently on these topics for groups large and small.

 

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