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FCC slows down on net neutrality fast-lane proposal, sets up inbox for feedback

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The proposal of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow Internet service providers to charge content providers for faster routes has sparked a flurry of commentary on the Internet that the commission has decided to open an email box where the public can send their comments and reactions.

FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler is inviting the public to send comments and feedback directly to him at openinternet@fcc.gov. The law requires the FCC to respond to comments from the public, so Internet users concerned about the pending net neutrality proposal can make their voices heard by sending Wheeler an email.

The standard rulemaking procedures of the FCC do not involve sending an email. Normally, the FCC issues a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking before soliciting comments through an Electronic Comment Filing System. The FCC, however, is hard-pressed to show that it is open to feedback and is now accepting comments on the hotly-debated proposal.

Wheeler's proposal is not yet fully available to the public, but watchdog groups have already come out slamming the proposed rules, fearing that it would allow ISPs such as Comcast and AT&T to provide preferential treatment to content providers under "commercially reasonable" terms.

In a blog post written by Wheeler, the commissioner assured that fears about "anti-competitive price increases" for content providers and consumers are "unfounded" and that the proposal aims to protect against anti-competition and abusive consumers. Wheeler also said that the proposal will require ISPs to commit a "baseline level of service" to protect regular customers from being stuck in an Internet traffic jam while deep-pocketed content providers and consumers run away in the fast lane. The FCC, however, has still to disclose what it defines as a baseline level of serve.

Critics of Wheeler's net neutrality proposal believe that it will give rise to a pay-to-play model where ISPs collect fees from content providers to provide a speed advantage over their competition. Two scenarios can happen. One, content providers that can afford to pay the additional fees for speed priority - profitable companies such as YouTube, Amazon and Netflix - will stay on top of their game. And two, those with meager resources will have no choice but to drop off. Research shows that users are more likely to leave a website for every second it takes for the website to load.

In January, a Washington federal appeals court rejected the FCC's 81-page net neutrality proposal, citing Section 706(a) of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which mandates the FCC to promote fair access to telecommunications services "by utilizing, in a manner consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment."

Wheeler, however, is determined to get past the judiciary and have a rule set in place by the end of this year. He has already circulated the proposal among his fellow commissioners and is keen on getting a preliminary affirmative vote on May 15.

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