Internet Law

FCC advances net neutrality plan allowing websites to be charged for faster service

By a 3-2 vote the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday advanced a net neutrality plan that would allow Internet service providers to charge websites for an Internet fast lane to deliver their content, as long as the deals are commercially reasonable.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed the plan, and two fellow Democrats joined with him to send it out for public comment, report the Washington Post, Politico, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. Essentially the plan allows Internet service providers (ISPs) to provide faster service to companies that pay for it, as long as the ISPs don’t slow down the service that a consumer pays to receive, the New York Times says.

The plan bars ISPs from blocking websites and provides for an ombudsman to act on complaints. In a concession made to get the votes of the two other Democrats, Wheeler asked whether broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon should be reclassified as a public utility to allow stricter regulations. He also asked for feedback on whether pay-for-priority deals should be banned.

Wheeler says his approach responds to court challenges by major carriers. A federal appeals court ruled in January that the FCC can’t impose open Internet rules on broadband providers, because the FCC has opted to classify them in a way that exempts them from treatment as common carriers.

Many Republicans and ISPs have opposed the proposal for utility-like regulation, while consumer activists and protesters fear the pay-for-priority plan will squelch free speech.

University of Pennsylvania law professor Christopher Yoo said in a prior New York Times article that the FCC wants to avoid classifying ISPs as common carriers, while adding enough conditions to the commercial reasonableness standard for prioritizing transmissions to satisfy both the courts and proponents of net neutrality.

The New York Times article profiles the law professor who developed the concept of net neutrality, Tim Wu of Columbia University, who says broadband carriers function as broadband carriers and should be subject to the FCC’s full regulatory authority.

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