FCC opens public debate on a vague draft of Internet rules

15 May 2014 by Steve Blum
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Wheeler lays out his position.

The FCC voted 3–2 along party lines today to start the formal debate on whether and how Internet access and traffic should be regulated. Looked at another way, though, the deck is pre-stacked in so far as the discussion starts with a proposed set of poorly defined regulations that would have the FCC managing the Internet on a day to day basis.

That doesn’t mean the outcome is predetermined. The broad range of questions the FCC is asking – including whether consumer Internet access or interconnection and traffic handling for content providers should be regulated as a traditional common carrier utility – leaves the door open to substantial changes before anything is finalised.

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was the vote to watch, and she said yes, albeit reluctantly

So going forward we must honor transparency, ban blocking, and prevent unreasonable discrimination. We cannot have a two-tiered Internet, with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind. So I support network neutrality. But I believe the process that got us to this rulemaking today is flawed. I would have preferred a delay. I think we moved too fast to be fair. So I concur. But I want to acknowledge that the Chairman has made significant adjustments to the text of the rulemaking we adopt today. He has expanded its scope and put all options on the table.

The changes that chairman Tom Wheeler made, including consideration of common carrier rules and extending the window for public comment to four months, are a victory for Rosenworcel, although she clearly would have preferred not let the clock start ticking on this particular set of rules.

As expected, commissioner Ajit Pai voted no, pointedly agreeing with Rosenworcel that Wheeler’s way of doing business is wrong

To date, no one outside the building has asked me to support this proposal. It brings to mind a Texas politician’s observation that there is nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos…if we are going to act like our own mini-legislature and plunge the Commission into this morass, we need to use a better process going forward. I agree with my colleague, Commissioner Rosenworcel, that we have rushed headlong into this rulemaking by holding this vote today — and when there is any bipartisan agreement on net neutrality, that’s something to pay attention to.

Make no mistake, Rosenworcel and Pai do not agree on the issue itself. Pai wants to leave the Internet as it is. Rosenworcel favors regulation. But neither supports Wheeler’s lobbyist-centric, case-by-case approach that would have the FCC jump into the game as a referee who writes the rules as he goes along.

The first round of comments are due on 15 July 2014.