FCC Tweaks Proposed Pay-For-Faster-Internet Rules After Weeks Of Backlash

CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The FCC backtracks slightly on its net neutrality proposal, which would let Internet providers charge for faster access.

Facing pressure from major tech companies, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Monday it will rollback its proposed internet regulations that could have potentially threatened equal access to the Internet. But while the new rules acknowledge Silicon Valley’s complaints, they don’t change much from the original proposal, and could still leave tech companies, and customers, paying more for faster Internet access.

The FCC will release a new batch of proposals this week, according to a Wall Street Journal report. The new draft shows that Chairman Tom Wheeler has somewhat softened his position on whether Internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon could charge websites, mobile applications or services like Netflix for faster access to the Web.

But Wheeler still plans to allow “fast track” deals, according to the Wall Street Journal. The difference is that the FCC would first scrutinize those deals before they’re approved, similarly to what the Federal Trade Commission does with big companies’ acquisition deals. The new proposals would also consider treating Internet access like a public utility, such as electricity, which would mean stricter regulations for Internet providers.

“I won’t allow some companies to force Internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service,” Wheeler wrote in response to Silicon Valley’s open letters to the FCC last week.

Critics of the chairman’s original proposed rules, released last month, worried that they could have effectively segregated the Internet access into expensive express lanes and much slower lanes. But the chairman’s new approach could still give broadband providers the upper hand.

The FCC’s decision to revise its rules comes just days before the agency was scheduled to finalize them in a vote, and after weeks of protests. Since the agency released its proposed net neutrality rules in April, Wheeler and the FCC as a whole have come under harsh criticism from the public, Silicon Valley, and internally.

Earlier this year, a judge threw out the FCC’s net neutrality rules that made it so that all Internet traffic was treated equally. But the agency has since wrestled with how to best protect the Internet. After months of silence, the FCC in April released a new set of proposed rules that would let broadband Internet providers charge for speedy, guaranteed access.

Tech companies, including Google and Microsoft, and investors have been especially critical of the FCC’s new stance on net neutrality, saying that fast-track Internet access would kill innovation and could ultimately split the Internet into the haves and have-nots, where smaller companies wouldn’t be able to afford the fees. The FCC has also struggled with internal tensions with at least one of the agency’s commissioners pushing for a delay on this week’s vote to retool the proposal, and others asking for the rules to be scrapped entirely.