Federal Communications Commission votes to consider broadband rules that could allow data fast lanes. Public invited to comment.
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The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted 3-to-2 to open a controversial Internet regulation proposal to public comment, beginning a process that might normalize paid prioritization of Internet traffic.
The proposal, put forth by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, represents an attempt to offer rules for broadband service providers that fit within existing communications laws. The agency's 2010 rules were rejected earlier this year in a legal challenge by Verizon, leaving the agency's ability to regulate Internet service providers up in the air.
As a result of the vote, the agency will accept input from the public about its proposal for the next four months.
The FCC characterizes its Open Internet proposal as an attempt to determine the right policy to ensure that the Internet remains "open." But the proposal's contemplation of paid prioritization for network data traffic -- referred to as fast lanes for data -- has alarmed Internet companies and cyber liberties advocates who see paid prioritization as a threat to small Internet companies and as fundamentally anti-democratic.
The risk is that paid prioritization will turn the Internet into a protection racket. Without some regulatory restraint, large network providers such as Comcast might decide to demand extra fees from content delivery services like Netflix -- particularly from companies that compete in some way -- to ensure that their streaming video isn't degraded.
Attempting to defuse the controversy surrounding the rule revision, Wheeler said that nothing in this Open Internet proposal authorizes paid prioritization. But then nothing in the proposal definitively rules it out.
Reaction to the proposal promises a summer of intense lobbying and disagreement. Victoria Kaplan, lead campaign director for MoveOn.org Political Action, in a statement slammed the FCC's move to consider Wheeler's proposal, which, she said, "could destroy the Internet as we know it."
George Foote, a partner at the International law firm Dorsey & Whitney who has worked with the FCC, offered a statement to the contrary, dismissing such claims. "The FCC's proposed open internet order does not threaten the
Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
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