Consumer advocates take note: You can now buy freedom on the Internet.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing new rules allowing Internet service providers to strike “commercially reasonable” deals with content providers – giving companies the right to pay for faster service on broadband networks – or a “pay-for-priority” advantage.
Wheeler has met criticism from both consumer advocates and technology companies who fear a pay for priority system will turn into a battle between the have and have-nots, but he has tried to assuage those fears, stating that although some pay-for-priority deals will be allowed, there will be no “fast” and “slow” lane approach to the Internet. His intentions are not to make it harder for the little guy, but to give companies (and their customers) the opportunity to get more for their money.
“I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be compromised. I understand this issue in my bones,” said Wheeler. “Simply put, when a consumer buys a specified bandwidth, it is commercially unreasonable and thus a violation of this proposal to deny them the full connectivity and the full benefits that connection enables.”
Consumer advocates are pushing the FCC to reclassify Internet providers as utilities, like telephone companies, as opposed to their current status as less-regulated information services. Those against reclassifying believe stricter regulations will not prevent pay-for-priority deals but they will prevent capitalists from investing in network infrastructure, thus weakening the Internet.
Wheeler hasn’t said much about reclassifying Internet providers, nor have Google and Facebook, but the two aforementioned companies have been vocal with their opposition toward the FCC’s new proposal. But with all the wariness, Wheeler is still hoping to convince others that this will be a welcome change for the Internet.
For the record, Wheeler is formerly a private equity investor and cable industry lobbyist.