Internet 'fast lane' proposal sparks fierce online protests - WFXG FOX54 Augusta - Your News One Hour Earlier

FCC votes to consider new open internet regulations

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Protesters were out in force all week and interrupted the meeting several times. (Source: CNN) Protesters were out in force all week and interrupted the meeting several times. (Source: CNN)

(RNN) – The Federal Communications Commission voted to move forward with consideration of regulations that will affect internet neutrality.

Despite fears the proposal would allow internet providers to charge websites for faster access to their networks, using so-called "fast lanes," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said that wasn't on the agenda.

"Nothing in this proposal, by the way, authorizes paid prioritization," Wheeler said.

Instead, he said the goal was to provide a legal framework to prohibit "commercially unreasonable" practices, like slowing down speeds and blocking content.

"Prioritization that deprives the consumer of what the consumer has paid for would be commercially unreasonable, and therefore prohibited," Wheeler said.

The public meeting had several interruptions from the audience.

Critics worried that fast lanes would allow only the most profitable websites to come across at full speed. Also, they feared internet providers would slow down or block sites they don't like.

In March, Comcast signed a deal with Netflix that would give the streaming service a direct connection through their lines. According to CNN, it reportedly sped up the service for the cable company's users by 50 percent.

Wheeler mentioned Netflix in his speech, and said charging the streaming video provider to function at bandwidth speeds consumers already pay for was commercially unreasonable.

The push for new rules came after the 2010 Open Internet Order, which prevented speed throttling and content blocking, was struck down in January by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to the ruling, the FCC had classified broadband internet differently than phone lines, but it didn't have the power to impose the rules. However, the court left open the ability for the FCC to reclassify broadband internet or make the rules clearer.

The vote Thursday begins a 120-day comment period for the public.

Proposed 'fast lane' sparks protests

Calls for action against the proposed fast lanes sprang up on social media, urging users to contact Congress and the FCC to make their voices heard.

According to the Washington Post, many people set up camp in front of the FCC's headquarters in Washington since May 7.

Content producers, including Google, Amazon and Netflix, signed an open letter to the FCC to "express our support for a free and open internet."

"The innovation we have seen to date happened in a world without discrimination. An open internet has also been a platform for free speech and opportunity for billions of users," the letter reads.

Celebrities and musicians like Ok Go, Mark Ruffalo and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe jumped into the fray as well. Free Press and The Future of Music Coalition coordinated to gather the signatures.

"The open internet's impact on the creative community cannot be overstated. The internet has enabled artists to connect directly with each other and with audiences," a letter to the FCC reads. "It has eliminated the barriers of geography and taken collaborations to new levels. And it has allowed people – not corporations – to seek out the film, music and art that moves them."

Title II "common carrier"

Title II consideration received the most dissension among commissioners present at the meeting Thursday.

Meanwhile, Wheeler said he understood the importance of open internet, and that it was the ultimate goal of the regulations. The meeting, he said, was not about whether the internet must be open, but how and when the FCC will have rules in place to ensure it.

"There is one internet. It must be fast, it must be robust and it must be open," he said.

Protests have been centered on one common theme – to reclassify the internet as a Title II "common carrier" telecommunications service. That would making it a public utility, like phone lines, that falls under greater government regulation.

The government would have tighter control over infrastructure. It would also be able to prevent things such as slowing down service speeds and adding unseen or new charges.

A petition calling for the FCC to classify the internet as a common carrier on the White House's official website has more than 100,000 signatures.

Wheeler said April 29 he did not want to use Title II, but he threatened the option was not off the table in case another agreement with internet providers could not be reached.

"I do not believe we should leave the market unprotected for multiple more years while lawyers for the biggest corporate players tie the FCC's protections up in court," Wheeler said in a blog post. "If the proposal before us now turns out to be insufficient or if we observe anyone taking advantage of the rule, I won't hesitate to use Title II."

In response, CEOs of major internet providers such as Comcast, Verizon and Charter released their own open letter to the FCC. They denounced Title II classification and said it would cost jobs and provide for a slippery slope of regulation.

"As demonstrated repeatedly, the future of the open internet has nothing to do with Title II regulation, and Title II has nothing to do with the open internet. As it did in 2010, the Commission should categorically reject efforts to equate the two once and for all," the letter reads.

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