Commentary

Wheeler's Fast-Lane Plan Faces New Criticism

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to allow broadband providers to create paid fast lanes continues to draw some high-profile opposition.

This week, the influential editorial board of The New York Times joined the roster of opponents to the “troubling” plan. “Tom Wheeler .. has proposed troubling rules that would allow cable and phone firms to enter into specials with companies like Facebook and Google as long as the contracts are 'commercially reasonable'," the Times writes.

The newspaper adds that a better option for the FCC would be to reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications” service. Doing so would require providers to follow the same common carrier rules as telephone companies.

The Times' move comes around one week after President Barack Obama also voiced concern about Wheeler's fast-lane plan.

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“One of the issues around net neutrality is whether you are creating different rates or charges for different content providers. That's the big controversy here,” he said last Wednesday at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in Washington, D.C.

“You have big, wealthy media companies who might be willing to pay more but then also charge more for more spectrum, more bandwidth on the Internet so they can stream movies faster or what have you.... The position of my administration, as well as I think a lot of companies here is you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to various users. You want to leave it open so that the next Google or the next Facebook can succeed.”

Wheeler's proposal, put out for comment in May, would ban broadband providers from blocking or degrading content or services. But Wheeler also would allow providers to enter into paid prioritization agreements, meaning that telecoms and cable companies could charge companies like Netflix extra for speedy video delivery.

Almost all of the consumer advocacy groups to voice an opinion are opposed to Wheeler's plan. They argue that paid fast lanes will disadvantage startups, nonprofits and other Web users who can't afford to pay extra for speedy delivery.

Individuals who submitted comments about the plan also appear to be opposed to it by a wide margin. So far, the proposal had drawn a record 1.1 million public comments, most of which reportedly urged the FCC to preserve an open Internet, according to NPR.

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