FCC Adopts Open Internet Study Proposal

Tom Wheeler

The FCC voted Thursday to adopt Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for an open internet, triggering a 120 days period of comment on how the new rules should work. 

The vote was three in favor and two against, with the vote on party lines. The chairman and two Democrats voted for it and the two Republican commissioners voted against the proposal. 

The vote means the start of a period when there will be comments and discussions about how to keep the Internet open to all, for both consumers and innovation. 

Wheeler said this vote will not question "whether or not there will be an open internet but how to assure an open Internet."

Wheeler said the FCC is dedicated to creating a level playing field for both consumers and Internet providers but it has to be fair to all. "The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable," said Wheeler. 

Wheeler said that while there may be opportunities for paid prioritization on the web in some cases, the FCC will never allow a situation where consumers do not get the level of service they paid for and were promised.

This proposal, said Wheeler, would create an ombundsperson inside the FCC who would accept comments from all and then investigate those that need to be looked at, and bring to the attention of the full commission those that require consideration or action. 

Wheeler said the proposal would expand transparency and require Internet providers like Comcast, Charter and Verizon to notify the FCC about any of their actions which might impact or violate the rules. "I call it the rat out rule," said Wheeler, adding that the provider would have to disclose any change in what consumers get or providers due that might change the way the Internet functions. 

The proposal mostly envisions that the new rules will fall under section 706 of the 1996 communications act, but also seeks comment on whether or not to use Title II rules that would place the web under the same kind of regulation that legacy telephone companies currently must follow. 

"I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be compromised," stated Wheeler. 

Each commissioner spoke before the vote. The first was Mignon Clyburn, who started out by saying that her mother had called her about the confusion over an open Internet, which was the first time in 16 years she had heard from her about an issue. She siad this showed her how much people care and how widely this issue is being debated. 

Clyburn said her concern was that the Internet not be slowed down or in any way used to stop things like speedy transmission of medical records and patient information; the use of the web for education; or to stop innovation by new companies and entrepreneurs. 

She said at first she thought about opposing this motion but then chairman Wheeler made changes that were responsive to her concerns, so she will vote to open what she anticipates will be a robust period of comment and discusison. 

"The real call to action," said Clyburn, "begins after this rule is passed."

She said that she knows "the eyes of the world are upon all of us."

  • This article was originally published on THR.com.