May 15, 2014 Last Updated 12:25 pm

FCC votes to recommend allowing fast-lane Internet plans

FCC rules battle comes down to the issue of whether the FCC can regulate ISPs, not whether net neutrality should be the rule

Today’s Federal Communications Commission hearing has been described as a battle between big tech companies like Google and Apple, and ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner. But the real question came down to whether the FCC can regulate the industry the way government regulates utilities such as electricity, not as some had hoped, about net neutrality.

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Advocates of net neutrality lost out today when the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, tried to allay fears of a multi-tiered Internet by saying that if consumers buy a level of service and don’t receive that level of service the FCC will crack down. But nothing he said prevented the ISPs from creating that multi-tiered service. In other words, Wheeler came down on the site of deregulation of the Internet, but enforcement of contracts – not the same thing.

The question that was fought out today was whether the ISPs area utility? Is it possible for cable television to be regulated by local governments, but not ISPs? The position that separated the two parties had nothing to do with net neutrality, but whether the FCC had any role in regulating the industry.

Today’s vote, therefore, will be confusing for many who thought the issue was net neutrality. The FCC commission voted 3 to 2 in favor of the recommendations, with both Democrats voting Yes (and the chairman), with the two Republicans voting No.

The proposed rules give the ISPs precisely what they want, the ability to make deals with content providers, while allowing the FCC to enforce contracts in the case where the ISP turns out to not be providing the agreed upon service.

(In other words, if you are willing to pay you’ll get what you paid for, but if you don’t the FCC won’t force the ISP to give you equal service.)

Next up comes the 60-day public comment period, followed by a further 60-day public response period. The final vote then comes just before the mid-term elections, by which time anyone who considers themselves a support of net neutrality will be looking for a new political party to support.

Update: The FCC proposals have put many liberal media outlets and organizations in a tough spot: the move to end net neutrality is being led by the Democratic members of the panel.

This didn’t stop MoveOn.org from coming out against the FCC’s decision in a just issued statement:

“An open Internet levels the playing field in our democracy and that’s why it’s so alarming that the FCC is moving forward Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed rules that would break President Obama’s promise to uphold Net Neutrality — rules that could destroy the Internet as we know it,” said ictoria Kaplan, lead campaign director for MoveOn.org Political Action.

“MoveOn members strongly support an open and fair Internet that is treated as the public utility that it is, and will make their voices known during the comment period, calling on the FCC to reject the proposed rules that would undermine an open Internet–and on President Obama to publicly oppose this plan.”

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