FCC passes net neutrality proposal, opens public comment

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The FCC voted today to pass Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for a new net neutrality framework, beginning what will be a multiple-month process.

The FCC seeks comments on a number of key issues that are at the heart of the net neutrality topic. Service providers would have to provide a minimum quality for any service, while adhering to "commercially reasonable" standards. The regulator wants comments on what those standards should be, including whether service providers should not be allowed to strike deals with content companies like Netflix to pay for better service on their network.

In addition, the FCC wants to create greater oversight for service providers, proposing an ombudsperson who would represent Internet users and examine possible violations of the order.

One of the controversial elements of the FCC's proposal is to reclassify Internet service providers as Title II services subject to common carrier regulation. Wheeler has maintained he will apply Title II if any service provider abuses its market power.

However, Internet industry advocates say that applying Title II could have various repercussions.

"Although the intent in pushing reclassification is to make the Internet more open and free, in reality such a move could backfire badly," wrote Eli Dourado, a Mercatus Center research fellow in a new blog post. "Activists don't seem to have considered the effect of reclassification on international Internet politics, where it would likely give enemies of Internet openness everything they have always wanted."

Even those FCC commissioners who did vote for the proposal expressed their misgivings about the NPRM.

"I would have done this differently. I would have taken the time to consider the future," said Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during the vote.

She added that the FCC should have taken more time to vote on the rulemaking. "I believe the process that got us to rulemaking today was flawed," she said. "I would have preferred a delay."

Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Reilly voted no on the proposal. 

Although his plan poses the question on whether paid priortization should be banned, he did advance a proposal that would allow arrangements between ISPs such as AT&T and Time Warner Cable and web content providers like Netflix. 

"Nothing in this proposal, by the way, authorizes paid prioritization, despite what has been incorrectly stated today," he said. "Personally, I don't like the idea that the Internet could be divided into haves and have-nots, and I will work to see that does not happen."

Wheeler added that prioritization would not enable a service provider to degrade or throttle a consumer's Internet connection speed. "When a consumer buys a specified bandwidth, it is commercially unreasonable ... to deny them the full connectivity and the full benefits that connection enables."

Now that the proposal has passed, it will move into a 60-day public comment period, followed by 60 more days for response.

For more:
- hear the FCC webcast

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