Republican FCC Commissioners Request Delay of Net Neutrality Vote

Associate Editor

The two GOP members of the Federal Communications Commission have petitioned Chairman Tom Wheeler to release his full 332-page “net neutrality” proposal to the public and postpone the FCC’s vote on it.

They asked that the public be given at least 30 days to review and comment on the document before an FCC vote is taken.

“Net neutrality” refers to maintaining a free and open Internet. Wheeler’s most recent proposed rules to ensure net neutrality, released to the public on Feb. 4 in a four-page fact sheet, would reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service for the first time, giving it the same status as a public utility, among other measures.

Based on the information in Wheeler’s outline, some education organizations indicated initial support of it. “These rules appear to ensure that the playing field is level,” so that schools have the same access as businesses, and ed-tech startups have the same opportunities to reach students as the largest education-content providers, said Douglas A. Levin, who recently stepped down as the executive director of the Glen Burnie, Md.-based State Educational Technology Directors Association.  

“I am very pleased that Chairman Wheeler’s outlined proposal matches the network neutrality principles ALA and nearly a dozen library and higher education groups called for last July,” said American Library Association President Courtney Young, in a statement.

In the meantime, Wheeler has only shared the full proposal with the five commissioners, who are currently scheduled to vote on them at the next commission meeting on Feb. 26.

The rules surrounding the preservation of an open Internet have been in question since a January 2014 decision by a U.S. appeals court struck down the FCC’s net neutrality rules. The federal court’s opinion was interpreted as giving commercial Internet providers more power to set conditions on delivering content before it reaches customers.

Last May, Chairman Wheeler released his first set of proposed rules in response to that federal court ruling. Some experts reviewing those rules said they could result in the creation of a two-tier system of Internet content delivery, allowing a “fast lane” for content providers willing to pay more for the privilege of speedier delivery of their streaming content to end users. However, school and library officials had feared that the FCC, under that plan, ultimately would restrict access to online resources, by potentially setting up a system that could leave their stakeholders in “the slow lane” of Internet-delivered content.

Besides reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service, Wheeler’s new proposal would:

  • Secure new rules for an open Internet that also apply to mobile broadband, since at least 55 percent of Internet traffic is now carried over wireless networks;
  • Ban certain practices that impede an open Internet, including “paid prioritization” for so-called fast lanes;
  • Enhance existing transparency rules; and
  • Give the commission the authority to hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action when issues arise about the exchange of traffic between large broadband providers and so-called “edge providers,” which deliver Internet content and services.

Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, the lone Republicans on the five-member board, made their request in a public statement on the FCC website Monday. “With the future of the entire Internet at stake, it is imperative that the FCC get this right,” the joint statement from Pai and O’Rielly said. “And to do that we must live up to the highest standards of transparency.”

Underscoring the importance for transparency, the GOP commissioners said, is the fact that Wheeler’s proposal released earlier this month is “so dramatically different than the proposal the FCC adopted and put out for public comment last May.”

That May proposal resulted in some 4 million public comments, most of them critical. Wheeler made his case for the new proposal in a Wired op-ed.

For their part, Pai and O’Rielly cited a Hart Research Associates survey, conducted after Wheeler’s most recent proposal, that showed nearly three out of four Americans don’t know what “net neutrality” means. The research, based on telephone interviews with 800 American adults, was released last week by the Progressive Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank. It also showed that “73 percent of Americans want greater disclosure of the details of the FCC’s proposal to regulate the Internet.”

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