The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted three to two to propose Net neutrality rules, a third attempt to regulate the Internet after previous attempts were foiled by the courts.
Under the proposal spearheaded by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, broadband providers would be required to disclose their network-management practices to consumers, and fixed high-speed carriers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon would be forbidden from blocking lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
The FCC also has proposed barring fixed broadband providers from engaging in “commercially unreasonable practices," a term that is likely to be vigorously debated in the coming months. The Internet regulations are almost certain to end up in federal court, one reason the agency may be opening up its notice of proposed rulemaking for an extended public comment period of four months.
“What we are dealing with today is a proposal, not a final rule," Wheeler cautioned. “With this notice we are specifically asking for input on different approaches to accomplish the same goal: an open Internet."
In the notice, the FCC asked whether it should ban agreements in which content providers like Amazon and Netflix could pay a premium for faster priority to Internet lanes, a controversial practice that consumer advocates staunchly oppose.
Although FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel sided with Wheeler on the proposal, she expressed her preference that the agency would have delayed a vote. She cited “the great tide of public commentary that followed in the wake" of Wheeler’s initial proposal, which he modified in response to widespread criticism. His initial proposal was said to have contemplated authorizing pay-for-priority deals, which critics worried would create slow and fast lanes on the Internet and frustrate access to content.
The changes didn’t go far enough to appease some organizations, such as the progressive group CREDO, which launched a petition urging President Obama to save the Internet.