Net Neutrality: FCC Shifting Gears On Its Internet “Fast Lane” Idea

Following a tech-industry backlash, the FCC appears ready to reconsider a proposal that would allow broadband providers to charge Internet services such as Netflix or Google extra for faster connectivity, the Wall Street Journalreported over the weekend.

The proposal by the Federal Communications Commission would effectively undermine net neutrality, the idea that Internet providers like the cable or cellular companies shouldn’t filter, slow or otherwise limit the data traffic that flows over their networks. The backlash against the FCC came when its recent proposal allowed for “paid prioritization,” which would allow broadband providers to charge more for companies to deliver their services (like movies on Netflix) to consumers. In essence, companies would have to pay to be in the “fast lane” of Internet service.

Commission chairman Tom Wheeler is reportedly aiming to salvage his fast-lane approach by coupling it with a promise to crack down on carriers that abuse their power. It’s unclear whether tech companies unhappy with his original idea will go for this largely rhetorical reprise.

Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the nonprofit advocacy group Free Press, said that Wheeler is feeling the pressure to enact meaningful and sustainable policy to regulate net neutrality.

“[The FCC is] asking better questions. But they can’t do what they claim they want to do with their preferred legal approach. It won’t work,” Aaron said in an email to ReadWrite.

Under its full legal authority, a provision known as Title II of the Communications Act, the FCC could decided treat Internet access as a public utility, thus allowing it more regulatory freedom over net neutrality. In January, a court denied the FCC’s ability to regulate net neutrality based on how Internet providers are currently classified by law.

“The FCC needs to adopt clear rules prohibiting blocking and discrimination online,” Chris Riley, senior policy engineer at Mozilla, said in a recent blog post.

The commission will hear proposals by Mozilla and others this week when it meets to vote on the plan, but it is not clear in any way if regulators will actually be swayed by such arguments.

Lead image courtesy of Shutterstock

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