The Federal Communications Commission voted preliminary approval for Chairman Tom Wheeler's Internet regulation proposal Thursday. The proposal, approved on a 3-2 vote, has drawn criticism from Net neutrality proponents. Following a 120-day public comment period, the proposal will be put up for a final vote.
The proposal would allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to make special deals with content providers. Those deals would improve the connection quality to some Web services over others. Wheeler denies the charges of Net neutrality proponents that his plan would effectively create fast and slow lanes on the Internet.
Buying into the Fast Lane
Wheeler maintains his goal is to create a set of rules that protect the current state of the Internet in the same way that the Open Internet Order did in 2010. That order was struck down in court earlier this year, and even now, the FCC is not in agreement as to how Net neutrality should be handled given the business interests involved.
Paid prioritization is essentially what Wheeler's latest proposal would allow for, even though that type of system is not viewed positively by many people. The idea behind paid prioritization is that a minimum standard for Internet speed should be set, but when a company like Netflix wants to improve its connection, that should also be allowed.
The problem with a paid prioritization system, according to Net neutrality proponents, is that ISPs will attempt to make more deals with content providers by discriminating against providers that are not paying extra. Wheeler is adamant there will be protections in place that prevent any discrimination.
Only a Proposal
Though opponents say Wheeler's plan will erode Net neutrality, Thursday's decision only creates a basis for a public comment period that will last 120 days. Changes were made to the proposal before Thursday's vote, due to criticism, and the same process will now take place before a final vote occurs.
While the plan may allow for Internet fast lanes right now, there is no guarantee that by the time a final vote occurs the plan will be the same. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel strongly opposed Thursday's vote, pushing instead for a delay until revisions could be made.
Although Rosenworcel was unable to push back the vote, the changes that she and other opponents hope for can now be made over the next 120 days. Whether or not changes are made, the final vote will have a significant impact on the telecommunications industry.