Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has revised his proposal for net neutrality after receiving considerable backlash on a plan unveiled in April.
Under the previous version of Wheeler’s proposal, broadband providers would be allowed to charge for faster delivery of internet content. Those who advocate for net neutrality, or the concept that all internet content should be equally accessible, were critical of Wheeler’s previous proposal.
The revised draft, detailed this weekend by The Wall Street Journal, essentially sticks to the original plan, but it stresses that the FCC will highly scrutinize any deals for faster delivery of content to ensure that consumers are not hurt by them and that nonpaying companies are not put at a disadvantage.
For example, the FCC would allow a deal that provides faster internet access for a health service that is used to monitor how a patient is doing, but it would not allow a provider to give faster delivery to one of its own web services, said an FCC official who asked not to be identified because the plan hasn’t been made public yet.
The new plan also includes wording that would protect consumers and innovators, and it proposes a new ombudsman position, who would advocate for startups.
More importantly, the new proposal – which is scheduled for a vote on Thursday and would be opened to public comment if approved – asks for input on whether broadband internet should be reclassified as a public utility.
Reclassifying would give the FCC more regulatory oversight and allow it to protect net neutrality, but internet providers are strongly against reclassification and argue that it would stifle innovation.
“The new draft clearly reflects public input the commission has received,” an FCC official said. “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.”
Michael Weinberg, vice president at Public Knowledge, a digital rights group, said the new proposal shows that Wheeler is listening to the public, but he added that the FCC cannot allow providers to charge for faster delivery.
“Going forward, we will continue to push to make sure that the FCC understands that internet fast lanes go against the core values of net neutrality, and that the public demands protection for a truly free and open internet,” Weinberg said.
Craig Aaron, president and CEO of the Free Press public-interest group, said Wheeler needs to push for the reclassification of broadband providers.
“He needs to abandon the flimsy and failed legal approach of his predecessors and reclassify internet service providers as the common carriers they are,” Aaron said. “If preventing fast and slow lanes on the internet is the goal, reclassification is the way forward.”