Despite national outcry and protests both outside and inside a packed hearing room in Washington, DC, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted in favor of advancing a set of rules that threaten the heart of the "open internet" by allowing the creation of "paid priority fast lanes," supplanting the principle known as 'net neutrality' which says all online content must receive equal treatment by the nation's broadband networks.
In a vote of 3 to 2, with the Democrats on the commission making up the majority, the FCC approved a proposal by Chairman Tom Wheeler which critics say would not just alter net neutrality, but destroy it.
As the Washington Post reports:
The plan, approved in a three-to-two vote along party lines, could unleash a new economy on the Web where an Internet service provider such as Verizon would charge a Web site such as Netflix for the guarantee of flawless video streaming.
Smaller companies that can't afford to pay for faster delivery would likely face additional obstacles against bigger rivals. And consumers could see a trickle-down effect of higher prices as Web sites try to pass along new costs of doing business with Internet service providers.
The proposal is not a final rule, but the three-to-two vote on Thursday is a significant step forward on a controversial idea that has invited fierce opposition from consumer advocates, Silicon Valley heavyweights, and Democratic lawmakers.
Condemnation by those opposing the rule changes was swift.
"If Chairman Wheeler is sincere in his objections to a fast-lane, slow-lane Internet, then reclassification is the only way to prevent this terrible scenario from becoming a reality."
—Craig Aaron, Free Press
Craig Aaron, president of Free Press, which has led the charge of a broad coalition fighting on behalf of net neutrality, acknowledged that nothing about the FCC rule changes is final and now that a public comment period has officially begun, the real fight for lasting reforms has now started. In a statement in response to Thursday vote, Aaron said:
Millions of people have put the FCC on notice. A pay-for-priority Internet is unacceptable. Today, both Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel stated that they support prohibitions on paid prioritization and other forms of unreasonable discrimination. Tom Wheeler spoke passionately about the open Internet, but his rousing rhetoric doesn't match the reality of his proposal. The only way to accomplish the chairman’s goals is to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers.
The Commission says it wants to hear from the public; it will be hearing a lot more. This fight will stretch into the fall, but there’s one clear answer: The American people demand real Net Neutrality, and the FCC must restore it.
We’re encouraged by much of what was said during today's meeting. But words amount to little without the rules to back them up. If Chairman Wheeler is sincere in his objections to a fast-lane, slow-lane Internet, then reclassification is the only way to prevent this terrible scenario from becoming a reality.
Expressing the need for continued public engagement and activism and the overall importance of reclassifying broadband, Michael Weinberg, vice president of Public Knowledge, said: "This will be the summer of net neutrality. Net neutrality supporters will make it clear to the FCC and Congress that only robust net neutrality rules that prevent paid prioritization, grounded in clear Title II authority, will suffice. Any rules that allow for harmful discrimination cannot truly be called net neutrality. And any rules based on creaky legal authority are just a waste of everyone’s time."
In a statement released by the public advocacy group Common Cause, former FCC chairman Michael Copps, now a special adviser to the group, said the FCC's vote should make Thursday "an alarming day for anyone who treasures a free and open Internet."
"Let's be clear. Any proposal to allow fast lanes for the few is emphatically not net neutrality."
—Michael Copps, Common Cause
Copps continued: "Let's be clear. Any proposal to allow fast lanes for the few is emphatically not net neutrality. The clear common-sense prerequisite for an Open Internet is Title II reclassification, guaranteeing the agency's authority to protect consumers and ensure free speech online."
"The FCC could have moved decisively to guarantee that the Internet remains an open platform for free expression and the exchange of democracy-sustaining communications," said Copps. "Instead, the Commission again left broadband users without the protections they deserve."
Under the hashtags #savetheinternet and #realnetneutrality other critics of the FCC vote were expressing their deep disappointment in the Democratic commissioners who vote in favor of the rules: