FCC Advances Controversial Proposal on Net Neutrality

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, center, speaks during a meeting of the commissioners on Thursday in Washington.

Highlights: 3 things you need to know now
  • The FCC voted 3-2 to take the next step toward adopting a new proposal on net neutrality. A public comment period is now open.
  • We haven't seen the full proposal yet, but it would leave the door open for companies to strike deals that would prioritize some Internet traffic over others. Any such deal would be subject to scrutiny by the FCC.
  • The process isn't over — after the public comment period, the FCC will write a final set of rules and vote on them.
WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to push forward its much-anticipated proposal that will dictate how broadband providers can treat Internet traffic, a crucial piece of regulation that has drawn the attention of the world's largest Internet companies and a wide range of politicians including President Barack Obama.
The proposal includes two primary options. The first option, a scaled-back version of the FCC's 2010 rules that were struck down by a federal appeals court, would allow companies to strike pay-for-preference deals that are scrutinized by the FCC. The second, more dramatic option would reclassify broadband service as a public utility, making it eligible for stricter regulation including a ban on pay-for-preference deals.
The FCC's new proposal is based on the comments from the D.C. Court of Appeals that struck down the 2010 rules. The new regulation would not preclude companies from signing paid prioritization deals, but would include "a rigorous, multi-factor 'screen' to analyze whether any conduct hurts consumers, competition, free expression, civic engagement, and other criteria under a legal standard termed 'commercial reasonableness,'" the FCC wrote in a press release.
That means companies would be allowed to sign deals, but the contracts would then need to be defended under the "commercial reasonableness" standard.
The proposal now goes through a comment period in which the FCC listens to everyone from industry advocates and lobbyists to think tanks and politicians. The FCC then writes a final set of rules that are voted on. That is not expected to happen until late in the year.
Outside the FCC, protestors banged drums, chanted and held signs calling for net neutrality — rules that would force ISPs to treat all Internet traffic equally.
The rules stirred controversy when details of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's initial proposal leaked. The proposal reportedly included a provision allowing companies to strike pay-for-preference deals that the commission would monitor.
The news caused an uproar in the media and among net neutrality advocates who worried that the new proposal was the first step to an Internet of slow and fast lanes.
The initial debate shifted rapidly when Wheeler responded, saying that he had revised the initial draft and would consider reclassifying broadband, a move that would please net neutrality advocates.
The FCC's new proposal is the result of a January ruling by the Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals that agreed with Verizon, which claimed the FCC did not have the authority to force ISPs to treat all Internet traffic equally.
This story is developing and Mashable will have more analysis....
The FCC's press release is below:

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