FCC’s Reported Capitulation around Open Internet Protections is a Major Step Backward

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  • Dale Eisman

After months of insisting that he would protect free speech and innovation online by guaranteeing Open Internet protections, Federal Communications Commissioner Chairman Tom Wheeler appears ready to break his word, Common Cause said today.

Reports this morning in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and other news outlets indicate that Wheeler is circulating draft Open Internet rules that would preserve net neutrality in name only. The proposed rules would allow providers like Verizon to hit web firms with larger fees in return for delivering their content faster or more smoothly.

“If true, this proposal is a huge step backwards and just must be stopped,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner who now serves as a special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “If the Commission subverts the Open Internet by creating a fast lane for the 1 percent and slow lanes for the 99 percent, it would be an insult to both citizens and to the promise of the Net.”

Firms like Netflix and HBO Go will surely pass any increased costs to consumers, Copps said. Other content providers, unwilling or unable to pay higher fees, risk seeing traffic on their sites dry up as consumers frustrated by slow downloads turn to their competitors.

The new rules also have implications for democracy, he added. A true Open Internet gives us an electronic public square, where everyone has an equal chance to be heard. Once broadband companies can impose tolls and put some traffic in fast lanes while slowing down other messages, candidates and groups that can afford to pay the tolls will gain an enormous advantage.