FCC Chairmain Tom Wheeler is taking another stab at that whole "net neutrality" thing, after over 100 tech companies blasted his recent proposal for new net neutrality rules as weak and biased towards wealthy companies that can pay extra to have their sites load more quickly on the web.
A court struck down the FCC's original rules on net neutrality -- or the principle that Internet service providers should treat all online traffic equally -- in January, and in April Wheeler put forward a new proposal that would revise the rules. Under the new system, Internet providers could charge websites like Netflix or Skype for faster Internet, essentially creating two lanes for online traffic -- one for companies that can pay up, and a slower one for those that can't. Critics say that such a "pay-to-play" system will stifle innovation and make Internet more expensive.
Late Sunday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Wheeler is now planning to add stronger language to his proposal in order to assuage people's fears. "In the new draft, Mr. Wheeler is sticking to the same basic approach but will include language that would make clear that the FCC will scrutinize the deals to make sure that the broadband providers don't unfairly put nonpaying companies' content at a disadvantage," the Journal's Gautham Nagesh reported.
Translation: Trust us!
FCC's original, stronger net neutrality rules prevented any discrimination of Internet traffic, banning Internet service providers from choosing which kinds of Internet traffic they could speed up and which they could slow down or block. And it's that old system that Internet companies want. After Wheeler put forward the new pay-to-play plan for governing Internet traffic, more than 100 technology firms, including heavyweights like Google, Amazon and Facebook, poo-pooed the plan in a open letter to the FCC.
Given Wheeler's small concession, don't expect Internet companies to back down. Silicon Valley won its last showdown with the Beltway over the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2012.
Fortunately, Wheeler may be offering some wiggle room. According to the Journal, the FCC will ask for public comment on both the idea of banning Internet providers from charging for better service and on the idea of reclassifying Internet access as a public utility -- something that would be a huge coup for Internet aficionados.
Designating Internet as a utility like water or electricity would give telecom regulators greater oversight over Internet service providers, and allow them to enforce strict net neutrality rules. Many feel this would only make sense: There's a growing consensus that Internet is a basic human right, and should be regulated as such.