The Federal Communications Commission is seeking comment on how to keep the Internet open and accessible to all. The agency’s outreach is in response to a recent U.S. circuit court decision that threatened a law (“net neutrality”) that prohibits Internet Service Providers, such as Verizon, from charging Internet companies for faster websites.
The law is of paramount concern to the web industry, especially Netflix, which fears that forcing websites to pay more money for faster service will both raise costs on multimedia websites and prevent savvy startups from competing with their well-funded established competitors.
Today, the FCC announced it will not appeal the court’s ruling, nor will it immediately exert its controversial authority to reclassify the Internet as a type of “common carrier,” which would have allowed it to maintain net neutrality. An aggressive move to reclassify the Internet as a kind of household utility would exacerbate an ongoing war with Republicans who think the federal agency is overstepping its authority.
Instead, it’s seeking open comment and researching a new way forward.
Civil liberties organization Free Press is concerned that the agency isn’t taking a more urgent approach to preserving net neutrality. “Pretending the FCC has authority won’t actually help Internet users when websites are being blocked or services are being slowed down,” said president and CEO Craig Aaron in a statement.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s detractors give a good indication of the partisan tug-of-war he’s caught in. Commissioner Ajit Pai wrote: “FCC Chairman floats a plan for rules regulating Internet service providers’ network management practices instead of seeking guidance from Congress.”
Commissioner Michael O’Reilly likewise had harsh words: “It appears that the FCC is tilting at windmills here. Instead of fostering investment and innovation through deregulation, the FCC will be devoting its resources to adopting new rules without any evidence that consumers are unable to access the content of their choice.”
Today’s news is little more than a glorified request for comment. The chairman isn’t ruling out reclassifying Internet services and is openly seeking input from concerned citizens. If you think that anything other than aggressive action is the path forward, you might want to be concerned at the diplomatic approach. Otherwise, it’s still an open question about the future of net neutrality and whether it will survive.