FCC’s Internet ‘Fast Lane’ Proposal in Danger

Democratic commissioners could derail the new net-neutrality regulations.

 Ethernet cables lead to a server at the Rittal stand at the 2013 CeBIT technology trade fair the day before the fair opens to visitors on March 4, 2013 in Hanover, Germany.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
May 7, 2014, 1:12 p.m.

The Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion might have to delay a vote on new net-neut­ral­ity reg­u­la­tions.

Jes­sica Rosen­wor­cel, a Demo­crat­ic FCC com­mis­sion­er, said Wed­nes­day that she has “real con­cerns” with Chair­man Tom Wheel­er’s pro­pos­al, which would al­low In­ter­net ser­vice pro­viders to charge web­sites for spe­cial “fast lanes” in at least some cases. The FCC is sched­uled to vote on the pro­pos­al next Thursday.

“I think we should delay our con­sid­er­a­tion of his rules by at least a month,” Rosen­wor­cel said in a speech be­fore a lib­rary group in Wash­ing­ton. “I be­lieve that rush­ing head­long in­to a rule-mak­ing next week fails to re­spect the pub­lic re­sponse to his pro­pos­al.”

The two Re­pub­lic­ans on the com­mis­sion are ex­pec­ted to vote against any net-neut­ral­ity rules, ar­guing that they would un­ne­ces­sar­ily bur­den In­ter­net pro­viders. That means Wheel­er needs the votes of both Demo­crat­ic com­mis­sion­ers to move ahead with the new rules.

Op­pos­i­tion from Rosen­wor­cel could force Wheel­er back to the draw­ing board. But the chair­man doesn’t ap­pear to be back­ing down. 

In a state­ment, an FCC spokes­man said Wheel­er “fully sup­ports a ro­bust pub­lic de­bate on how best to pro­tect the Open In­ter­net, which is why he in­tends to put for­ward his pro­pos­als for pub­lic com­ment next week.”

“Mov­ing for­ward will al­low the Amer­ic­an people to re­view and com­ment on the pro­posed plan without delay, and bring us one step closer to put­ting rules on the books to pro­tect con­sumers and en­tre­pren­eurs on­line,” the spokes­man for the chair­man said. 

The D.C. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals struck down the FCC’s old net-neut­ral­ity rules in Janu­ary. Wheel­er is try­ing to re­work the reg­u­la­tions in a way that can stand up to fu­ture court chal­lenges.

His pro­pos­al would still bar In­ter­net pro­viders from block­ing web­sites but would al­low them to charge web­sites for faster ser­vice as long as the ar­range­ments are “com­mer­cially reas­on­able.”

Lib­er­als are out­raged that the FCC would al­low fast lanes, warn­ing it could tilt the In­ter­net in fa­vor of the largest cor­por­a­tions and stifle free speech on­line.

In her speech, Rosen­wor­cel noted that the chair­man’s “pro­pos­al has un­leashed a tor­rent of pub­lic re­sponse.”

“Tens of thou­sands of e-mails, hun­dreds of calls, com­ment­ary all across the In­ter­net,” Rosen­wor­cel said. “We need to re­spect that in­put, and we need time for that in­put. So while I re­cog­nize the ur­gency to move ahead and de­vel­op rules with dis­patch, I think the great­er ur­gency comes in giv­ing the Amer­ic­an pub­lic op­por­tun­ity to speak right now, be­fore we head down this road.”

Mignon Cly­burn, the oth­er Demo­crat­ic FCC com­mis­sion­er, said in a blog post Wed­nes­day that she is “listen­ing” to the thou­sands of people who have spoken out on the is­sue. 

“I would have pro­hib­ited pay for pri­or­ity ar­range­ments al­to­geth­er,” Cly­burn said.

More than one hun­dred tech­no­logy com­pan­ies sent a let­ter to the FCC Wed­nes­day, ur­ging the agency to ban “fast lanes.” 

Google, Face­book, Amazon, Mi­crosoft and oth­ers said the chair­man’s pro­pos­al “rep­res­ents a grave threat to the In­ter­net.”

This art­icle has been up­dated with a state­ment from an FCC spokes­man
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