It’s a big week for the open Internet, with FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler scheduled to present new, already-dreaded broadband rules for a vote Thursday. But might he unveil a surprise?
Facing opposition galore, Wheeler is trying to save his plan — at least by softening its language and appearing to be more open to public input — according to a couple of reports.
At stake is the future of net neutrality, or the principle that all network traffic should get equal treatment. Wheeler’s plan is expected to create Internet fast lanes by allowing companies to pay for faster, smoother broadband delivery of content to their users. The FCC has heard loud and clear from tech giants, venture capitalists, advocacy groups, and other protesters that the move would drastically change the Internet, and we wrote last week that Wheeler may not have enough FCC votes to move the proposal forward.
So under the revised plan, the Federal Communications Commission would still allow for paid prioritization but promises to be tough on deals that put others at a disadvantage, according to the Wall Street Journal. And Wheeler would ask for comments about whether broadband should be reclassified as a utility, which is key to why the FCC has failed to assert any real authority over net neutrality.
Could paid prioritization avoid degrading others’ Internet experience? Some say it’s possible: “It’s like FedEx,” Philip J. Weiser, dean of the University of Colorado Law School, told the New York Times. “You pay a certain amount for overnight delivery and a certain amount for two-day delivery.”
But the same NYT article takes a broader look at net neutrality and the man who coined the term, Tim Wu, a Columbia university law professor. Wu has said: “We take it for granted that bloggers, start-ups, or nonprofits on an open Internet reach their audiences roughly the same way as everyone else. Now they won’t. They’ll be behind in the queue, watching as companies that can pay tolls to the cable companies speed ahead.”
Photo of Tom Wheeler by Mark Wilson/Getty Images via Abaca Press/MCT