In the midst of public fury and criticism surrounding the impending rules of net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) head Thomas Wheeler is going to make revisions on the proposed rules that will regulate broadband Internet, and that include assurances that it won't let broadband Internet providers divide Web traffic into slow and fast lanes.
Recall that his proposal plans to ban broadband companies from slowing down or blocking websites, yet at the same time permits them to engage in deals with content providers that would seek for faster delivery of online content to the latter's clients. The deal is called "paid prioritization." His plan was met with disagreement from various companies, especially those from the technology industry, saying that allowing broadband to struck deals of such kind is allowing them to segregate Internet traffic just the same.
For instance is the man who coined the term "net neutrality," Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu.
"The new rule gives broadband providers what they've wanted for about a decade now: the right to speed up some traffic and degrade others," Wu wrote.
The new draft of the earlier proposal, however, is said to make it clear that the FCC will examine these deals between broadband and content providers to ensure that no one is taken advantage of, based on The Wall Street Journal's unidentified agency official. The official also discloses that the revised draft would request for public comment if the paid agreement should just be banned entirely, and if the Internet service should be regarded as a public utility that is subject to more regulation. Broadband providers, however, disagree with regarding Internet service a public utility, noting that such move would investment and innovation to break down. It would also take consideration to forbid broadband providers from striking deals with particular content providers, which the former isn't offering to other content providers.
Wheeler is beset with intense pressure prior to a vote on Thursday that would make the proposal open to public comment. He is said to be making amendments in the initial proposal following public outcry, but making sure that he sticks to his beliefs on the quickest course of action.
"The new draft clearly reflects the public input the commission has received," one FCC official told WSJ. "The draft is explicit that the goal is to find the best approach to ensure the Internet remains open and prevent any practices that threaten it."
Interestingly, two out of five commissioners of the FCC, namely Republican Ajit Pai and Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel, asked for Wheeler to delay the vote on Thursday.
Wheeler is reported to have been very willing to discuss the topic of reclassification, which critics say is the only sure way to achieve genuine net neutrality and the absence of it would render the FCC powerless to stop paid deals. However, telecommunications lawyers think Wheeler is simply applying the threat of a reclassification to inhibit broadband to struck deals that go over his rules. The broadbands are also firm though, challenging the last two attempts of the FCC to implement net neutrality in court, of which the most recent was in January. With reclassification, a court fight may also ensue.
The FCC chairman, however, argues that the present regulatory framework has no rules that prevent broadband from slowing down or blocking websites. He says he wants to play it fair by permitting the deals while at the same time depending on the FCC regulations.
"I won't allow some companies to force Internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service," Wheeler writes to Google and other companies.
"With broadband, there is no such thing as accelerating some traffic without degrading other traffic. We take it for granted that bloggers, start-ups, or nonprofits on an open Internet reach their audiences roughly the same way as everyone else. Now they won't," Wu however argues.
The revised rules are said to be in circulation early Monday to address the widespread criticism his initial proposal received when it was disclosed on April 23. Advocates of open Internet or net neutrality are though worried that Wheeler's approach may apply while he is still in office, but not when a new commission takes control of.