Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is broadening the scope of his proposed open Internet rules and suggesting tougher standards for Internet providers who wish to create paid priority fast lanes on their networks.
According to an FCC official, Wheeler made revisions after the commission received 35,000 public comments —many of them expressing outrage. The FCC first briefed reporters on the proposed rules last month.
In a blog written last week, Wheeler reiterated his commitment to a “free and open Internet.”
“There is no doubt that preserving and maintaining a free and open Internet is fundamental to the core values of our democratic society, and I have an unwavering commitment to its independence. My mind remains open as I continue to evaluate how best to promote these fundamental, core values,” he wrote.
“Over 100,000 Americans and counting… I am listening to your voices as I approach this critical vote to preserve an ever-free and open Internet.”
Wheeler, a Democrat, also tweaked his proposal after the five-member commission’s two other Democrats expressed concern.
“The new draft clearly reflects public input the commission has received,” the FCC official said in a statement. “The draft is explicit that the goal is to find the best approach to ensure the Internet remains open and prevent any practices that threaten it.”
Among the additions is a provision that would “presume” it to be illegal for an Internet provider to prioritize the traffic of an affiliated service — for example, it would be considered illegal if Comcast Corp. tried to give faster treatment to video streams of its subsidiary network, NBC.
However, an Internet service provider would be allowed to challenge that “presumption,” the official said.
In the revised proposal, Wheeler also seeks comment on the possibility of treating broadband providers as so-called “common carriers” like telephone companies, which are subject to greater regulation than Internet providers, under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
The FCC and Wheeler have so far avoided subjecting cable and telecoms companies to Title II treatment, although Wheeler has said the option remains on the table. In the new proposal, he entertains more discussion on it than his initial proposal did.
The proposal also asks whether all paid-priority fast lanes should be banned outright. The previous version only asks if some paid-priority services should be banned.
Wheeler has faced a torrent of criticism after the earlier proposal made it appear as if he was overhauling the principle of “network neutrality,” which says Internet service providers should not be allowed to discriminate against Web traffic depending on its source.
Such discrimination could result if a phone company like AT&T slowed down traffic from phone services like Skype, or if Comcast slowed Netflix video speeds to favor its own online video service, Xfinity.
The FCC will hold a preliminary vote on the rules Thursday before submitting them for formal public input. Wheeler aims to have a set of rules in place by year’s end. An earlier set of rules from 2010 was struck down by an appeals court in January after Verizon challenged them.
“When I voted to approve the 2010 Open Internet Order, I voiced four concerns about the scope of the rules and the legal theory upon which the Order was based,” the commissioner wrote in his blog.
- “First, I made clear that I would have applied the fixed rules to mobile services.
- “Second, “I would have prohibited pay for priority arrangements altogether.”
- “Third, I would have made an open Internet available to all end users and encouraged the FCC to carefully monitor whether the exceptions in the Order jeopardized the principle that an open Internet truly is available to everyone.
- “And finally, I reiterated my preference regarding the Commission’s legal authority over broadband Internet access service. While the Order adopted a different framework, I believed it was necessary to move forward to protect an open Internet.”