In what many are viewing as an ideological reversal more in line with the court's order than the Open Internet Order, an FCC insider revealed that the organization was set to propose new rules that would allow content companies to pay for faster delivery over the so-called "last mile" connection to people's homes, but enhance scrutiny of such deals so they don't harm competition or limit free speech.
To address the announcement's rabid fallout, Wheeler took a defensive stance on the FCC's official website on April 29. "Some recent commentary has had a misinformed interpretation of the Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) currently before the Commission," he began. "There are two things that are important to understand. First, this is not a final decision by the Commission but rather a formal request for input on a proposal as well as a set of related questions. Second, as the Notice makes clear, all options for protecting and promoting an Open Internet are on the table."
He continues, “The proposed rule is built to ensure that everyone has access to an Internet that is sufficiently robust to enable consumers to access the content, services and applications they demand, as well as an Internet that offers innovators and edge providers the ability to offer new products and services.” Wheeler stressed that while the FCC's powers have been restricted by the Court of Appeals' January ruling, the regulations proposed by the NPRM ensures the organization can still enforce the "transparency rule," which stipulates that ISPs fully disclose their service plans and procedures to the FCC.
However, Wheeler, a former cable and wireless industry lobbyist and Obama fundraiser, stopped short at reclassifying internet service as a telecommunications service under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, which would give the FCC a broader mandate to regulate internet service providers since its authority is greater when dealing with "common carriers" -- and that is a sticking point for many advocates of net neutrality.
"Pretending the FCC has authority won't actually help Internet users when websites are being blocked or services are being slowed down," Free Press CEO Craig Aaron wrote in a statement in February. "If the agency really wants to stop censorship, discrimination and website blocking, it must reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service."
“This is a stake in the heart for Internet openness,” Lauren Weinsten, a tech policy expert and net neutrality proponent, told Time in response to the NPRM proposals. “The nation’s largest Internet service providers have hit the ultimate jackpot. These companies keep secret all of the information needed to evaluate whether violations of Internet openness have occurred, and because the FCC moves so slowly, by the time it acts, a company that’s been victimized could be out of business.”
Ironically, "because the FCC moves so slowly," Wheeler says that's why action of any kind is necessary right now. "This NPRM means that consumers, startup innovators, venture capitalists, and others who have been waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting for the certainty of rules would finally have something on which they can rely," he concluded in his statement.
Wheeler is scheduled to give an address to Congress about these matters on May 20. Until then, may we never forget about "netiquette."