(Adds White House comment)
By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON May 15 U.S. regulators on Thursday
advanced a "net neutrality" proposal that would ban Internet
providers from blocking or slowing down access to websites but
may let them charge content companies for faster and more
reliable delivery of their traffic to users.
For four months now, the public can weigh in on the rules
proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in what
promises to be an intense tug-of-war between some tech companies
and consumer advocates on one side and Republicans and broadband
providers on the other, over the extent to which the agency can
regulate Internet traffic.
Dozens protested the vote at the FCC on Thursday as many
consumer advocates have rejected FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's
proposal that may allow some "commercially reasonable" deals in
which content companies could pay broadband providers to
prioritize traffic on their networks.
Critics worry the rules would create "fast lanes" for
companies that pay up and mean slower traffic for others.
Wheeler pledged to use all of his powers to prevent "acts to
divide the Internet between 'haves' and 'have nots.'"
"I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to
be compromised," Wheeler said. "The prospect of a gatekeeper
choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable."
Consumer advocates want the FCC to instead reclassify
Internet providers as utilities, like telephone companies,
rather than as the less-regulated information services they are
now. Broadband companies and Republicans, both in Congress and
at the FCC, vehemently oppose the plan.
The advanced proposal seeks comment on benefits of
reclassification, which critics say would throw the industry
into legal limbo, discourage investment in network
infrastructure and still not prevent pay-for-priority deals.
Wheeler's two fellow Democrats at the FCC expressed
misgivings about his proposal, with Commissioner Jessica
Rosenworcel saying the FCC moved "too fast to be fair." But she
and Mignon Clyburn concurred with Wheeler for a 3-2 vote to
begin the process of collecting public comment on the proposal.
"The real call to action begins after the vote today,"
Clyburn said. "You have the ear of the entire FCC. The eyes of
the world are on all of us."
The FCC's move comes after a U.S. appeals court rejected its
earlier net neutrality rules, which said pay-for-priority deals
"would raise significant cause for concern." To comply with the
court, the new proposal suggests some pay-for-priority deals may
be allowed, but also asks whether "some or all" such deals can
"The FCC's efforts were dealt a real challenge by the Court
of Appeals in January, but Chairman Wheeler has said his goal is
to preserve an open Internet, and we are pleased to see that he
is keeping all options on the table," the White House said in a
statement, adding they will watch the independent agency's work
"in hopes that the final rule stays true to the spirit of net
The FCC's vote was cautiously welcomed by both broadband
providers and consumer interest and technology groups as each
side hopes the ultimate rules lean their way.
"Nothing should be taken off the table as this discussion
evolves," Michael Beckerman, chief executive officer of the
Internet Association that represents companies including Google
Inc and Facebook Inc, said in a statement,
adding that his group will "advocate for the FCC to use its full
legal authority to enforce rules that lead to an open Internet."
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Ros Krasny, Andrea
Ricci and Lisa Shumaker)