FCC Confirms Net Neutrality Plans: Now Have Your Say

The Federal Communication Commission has formally published its plans on revisions to the way the Internet is regulated and begun a four month public consultation period.

The commission voted 3-2 on party lines to publish a proposed notice of rulemaking — in effect, draft rules that could be amended before they take effect. Although FCC chairman Tom Wheeler was joined by his two Democrat colleagues in supporting the publication, they both expressed concern about the process that’s led to the plan and how well it will work. The two Republican commissioners voted against the plan, saying the commission wasn’t the right authority to be making such rules.

Wheeler believes the new rules are needed to enforce some of the practices of net neutrality (if not the pure principle) after previous rules were struck down in court earlier this year. These include stopping carriers from blocking specific content on anything other than legal grounds.

The details of the plan are largely as had been reported, though it is a little firmer than expected on the possibility of reclassifying broadband so that the FCC can have more regulatory control. The commission says it will “seriously consider” reclassification and that doing so “remains a viable alternative.” That may suggest that explicitly asking the public whether they support such a move is more than a token gesture.

While the plan calls for “paid prioritization” (content providers paying for faster access) to be allowed, the consultation does ask the public if they think the idea should be allowed. Contrary to some expectations, the plan doesn’t go as far as to outright ban carriers from signing exclusive deals and instead forcing them to offer a paid “fast lane” to everyone. However, it calls for a “rebuttable presumption” that exclusive contracts aren’t allowed, putting the onus on the carriers and content providers to show why they should be treated as an exception in having an exclusive deal.

The consultation also asks for suggestions on how the FCC can apply a test of “commercial reasonableness” to decide whether policies by individual carriers are acceptable. It suggests this will be a multi-factor test and will take into account issues such as competition, free expression and the general effect on consumers and society.

You can file a comment on the proposals at http://www.fcc.gov/comments. More than 20,000 comments have already been filed in the past 30 days.

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