FCC Chair To Revise Horrible Proposed Net Neutrality Rules

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FCC Chair Tom Wheeler plans to release changes to proposed Net Neutrality regulations, possibly as soon as tomorrow. These revisions are, however, not likely to address substantive complaints.

What a difference a period of extended, massive criticism can make. Two weeks after unveiling proposed new rules for the Internet that would, unambiguously, constitute a massive sellout on the issue of net neutrality, FCC chair Tom Wheeler will be releasing revisions to that proposal, the The Wall Street Journal reports.

The proposed rules, first unveiled on April 23, would allow ISPs to charge higher rates to those companies able or willing to pay, in exchange for faster speeds for their sites. Critics have condemned the proposed rules on the grounds that they would enshrine a tiered Internet into law, effectively ceding financial control of the online marketplace to the biggest and wealthiest companies, while shutting out smaller operations and startups. Tom Wheeler spent decades working for the cable industry before taking command of the FCC last November, and the proposed rules are widely seen as a blatant give away from a former industry leader to his previous employers.

Initial criticism came from rank and file Internet users and journalists, and the FCC at first appeared inclined to dismiss it out of hand. However, over the last week the fight has been joined by people with considerably more clout. On May 7, Senator Al Franken announced his opposition to the proposal, and soon after a consortium of online and tech businesses led by Microsoft and Amazon joined him. That consortium issued a statement in support of net neutrality that requested the FCC “protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization”.

Given how these things work, it was likely the entrance of major companies that influenced Wheeler’s decision to revisit his proposal. However, supporters of net neutrality shouldn’t yet rest easy. According to the report, the revisions will be designed to address the massive outpouring of criticism, but will largely involve further clarification that the commission “will scrutinize the deals to make sure that the broadband providers don’t unfairly put nonpaying companies’ content at a disadvantage”. In other words, it’s a band-aid where an amputation is needed.

That said, the apparent willingness of the FCC to bend, somewhat, in response to criticism is a hopeful sign. The commission is at least aware of, and taking into account the massive criticism it brought upon itself.

The revised proposal is expected to be unveiled sometime tomorrow (Monday, May 12.) We will be following the story closely.

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