Despite Outcry, FCC to Push Ahead with Internet ‘Fast Lane’ Proposal

Chairman Tom Wheeler is not backing down on his net-neutrality rules.

Thomas Wheeler testifies in his confirmation hearing to become Federal Communications Commission chairman, before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on June 18, 2013 in Washington, DC. Wheeler testified that he supports a spectrum auction but likened it to a Rubik's cube, with many different facets that must be aligned perfectly in order to be completed.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
May 8, 2014, 12:05 p.m.

The head of the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion will push ahead with a vote on con­tro­ver­sial net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions des­pite an out­pour­ing of pub­lic an­ger and calls for delay.

All of the FCC com­mis­sion­ers aside from Chair­man Tom Wheel­er have cri­ti­cized the pro­pos­al and two of them have said the com­mis­sion should delay the vote sched­uled for next Thursday. The rules would al­low In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders to charge web­sites for faster ser­vice in some cases.

Thou­sands of people have filed com­ments op­pos­ing the rules, and the world’s largest tech com­pan­ies sent a let­ter this week warn­ing that the pro­pos­al is a threat to the In­ter­net.

But Wheel­er in­cluded his net-neut­ral­ity pro­pos­al on the com­mis­sion’s form­al agenda for next week’s meet­ing.

Re­cog­niz­ing the con­tro­versy over the is­sue, Wheel­er waived the com­mis­sion’s “sun­shine” rule, which typ­ic­ally cuts off pub­lic com­ments one week be­fore votes. In a state­ment Thursday, the FCC said mem­bers of the pub­lic “should have full op­por­tun­ity to ex­press their views” and that the com­mis­sion will con­sider all com­ments sub­mit­ted by next Wed­nes­day at 11:59 p.m.

The FCC first en­acted net-neut­ral­ity rules in 2010, but the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the D.C. Cir­cuit struck them down in Janu­ary. Wheel­er is try­ing to re­work the rules in a way that can sur­vive fu­ture court chal­lenges.

His pro­pos­al would ban In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders from block­ing web­sites but would al­low them to charge for spe­cial “fast lanes” as long as the ar­range­ments are “com­mer­cially reas­on­able.”

Wheel­er ar­gues that his pro­pos­al is on strong leg­al ground and would pre­vent ab­uses. But lib­er­al crit­ics fear that any “fast lanes” will tilt the In­ter­net in fa­vor of the largest cor­por­a­tions and stifle free speech.

Wheel­er will need the sup­port of two of the oth­er four com­mis­sion­ers to ad­vance the pro­pos­al at Thursday’s meet­ing. The two Re­pub­lic­ans, who are skep­tic­al of any net-neut­ral­ity rules, are al­most-cer­tain “no” votes.

Com­mis­sion­er Jes­sica Rosen­wor­cel, a Demo­crat, said Wed­nes­day she has “real con­cerns” with the pro­pos­al. She urged Wheel­er to delay the vote by at least a month to give the agency more time to re­view the feed­back from the pub­lic.

“I be­lieve that rush­ing head­long in­to a rule-mak­ing next week fails to re­spect the pub­lic re­sponse to his pro­pos­al,” Rosen­wor­cel said. She has not cla­ri­fied wheth­er she would vote against the pro­pos­al.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, the top Demo­crat on the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Tech­no­logy Sub­com­mit­tee, which over­sees the FCC, said Wed­nes­day that Rosen­wor­cel had “a very good point.”

Re­pub­lic­an Com­mis­sion­er Ajit Pai is­sued a state­ment Thursday echo­ing Rosen­wor­cel’s call for a delay.

“I have grave con­cerns about the Chair­man’s pro­pos­al on In­ter­net reg­u­la­tion and do not be­lieve that it should be con­sidered at the Com­mis­sion’s May meet­ing,” he said.

The vote next Thursday will only de­cide wheth­er the FCC will move ahead with the pro­pos­al. The FCC will have to hold a sep­ar­ate vote to fi­nal­ize the reg­u­la­tions.

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