FCC will vote on net neutrality next month

The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled a vote for next month on new net neutrality rules that could permanently alter the way in which we access and use the internet.

While the rules have not been finalized, it is expected that the FCC will attempt to make broadband a utility and further put internet giants like Google and Microsoft under stricter control.

The Hill:

FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler told other members of the commission he would circulate a draft proposal of the rules in February and vote on it later that month, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the news. 

“Yes, I can confirm that Chairman Wheeler intends to circulate an Open Internet order in February,” spokeswoman Kim Hart said.

During a press conference in December, Wheeler repeatedly declined to set a timeline for work on the plan, saying only that he wanted the process to be done “quickly, right [and to be] sustainable.”

Wheeler originally wanted to vote on neutrality by the end of 2014, but delayed action after President Obama called for the commission to take aggressive steps to ensure all Internet traffic is treated equally. 

Obama and Democrats in Congress are calling on the FCC to reclassify broadband Internet as a public utility, which would allow for stricter regulations but likely lead to a battle in court.

Prominent Republicans in Congress have blasted that proposal, arguing it would stifle innovation and put Internet companies at the mercy of regulators.

It remains unclear what the FCC's new proposal will look like.

The commission released proposed rules earlier this year that did not include reclassification. However, Wheeler has floated a number of other proposals since then, including a hybrid plan that would partially rely on the authority Obama described.

The fight over net neutrality has become a flashpoint for the FCC, which received a record 3.7 million comments on its proposal.

Critics said the FCC’s original plan could allow companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable to create “fast lanes” on the Internet by charging websites like YouTube or Netflix for quicker service.

If ever there were a place for the adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," this is it. The big companies want a dual track internet simply because they can charge some customers more if they create a separate highway for their access. Some opposition to this plan is based on the concept that this slower track can be used to stifle free speech by making it harder to access websites that promote unpopular political views. The big corporations swear that won't be the case, but if it's possible to do so, shouldn't that concern us?

And making broadband a utility is a horrible idea, one that will likely end up going all the way to the Supreme Court if the FCC rules it. It would add one more layer of bureaucracy that we don't need. It would also stifle technological innovation as more and more rules are issued to regulate networks and gadgets.

Net neutrality promises to be the biggest tech issue in the next few years. It's important to get it right at the outeset.

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