When the internet caught wind of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) consideration of plans that would fundamentally alter the concept of net neutrality, things got ugly quickly.
Online advocates took to Twitter and Reddit, expressing outrage at the idea that pay-for-play on the Internet could soon become a fact of life. A musician even composed a catchy open letter to the FCC, titled “Don’t Blow Up The Internet.”
In Washington, politicians have joined in the fight, and the word has appeared to trickle back to the FCC. On Wednesday night, Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the three Democrats on the five-member FCC, called on chairman Tom Wheeler to delay a proposal for new net neutrality rules, The New York Times reported. The move brings doubts that Wheeler will have enough votes to move forward with the proposed rules at a May 15 meeting. She attributed her comments to a “torrent of public response.”
“This is the free speech issue of our time,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn) said in a video posted Wednesday to the website No Slow Lane, part of a broader initiative by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal political action committee that has pressured the Obama administration not to change net neutrality rules. Last week, the group unearthed footage of then-candidate speaking in favor of the concept at a 2007 campaign event.
“The chairman of the FCC has proposed new rules to permit a fast lane for content providers that are willing and able to pay for it,” Franken says in the video. “This means big corporations will be able to get their content delivered faster… Big media companies would be able to get their version of the news to consumers faster, and we would end up paying for it with higher rates for Internet service, and new obstacles to accessing the content that we want.”
Franken tells viewers that it was taxpayer money that brought the Internet to fruition in the first place, and that it was the principal of net neutrality that has allowed the innovation that the Internet has brought with it.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) joined in the backlash against the FCC’s leaked new rules with a letter he sent directly to the chairman Wheeler last week. In it, he expresses concern that the commission would potentially allow “paid prioritization arrangements” as long as they are “commercially reasonable.”
“I believe the presumptive acceptance of such agreements in the regular course of business could upset the basic concept of an open Internet and would be very difficult to remedy at a later time,” Nelson wrote.
A letter from the nation’s top web companies, featuring the likes of Amazon, Netflix, Twitter, Tumblr, Dropbox, Google, Yahoo, Tumblr, etc.. was also sent to the commission on Wednesday, expressing some of the same concerns.
Other Senators are taking the fight straight to Twitter, where some like Sen. Ron Wyden (D-ON) and Sen. Corey Booker (D-NJ) are tracking the play by play updates of the issue.
Internet service providers like Verizon, who oppose the principle of net neutrality, say that the government has no business being the traffic cop for the Internet. The companies also argue that they should control the infrastructure they build and how the service should function in the private marketplace. Verizon brought the lawsuit that ended the FCC’s former “open internet” rules this January.
Shannon Gilson, a spokeswoman for chairman Wheeler, told the New York Times on Wednesday that the plan to formalize the proposed new rules on May 15 remain unchanged.
“Chairman Wheeler fully supports a robust public debate on how best to protect the Open Internet, which is why he intends to put forward his proposals for public comment next week,” she said. “Moving forward will allow the American people to review and comment on the proposed plan without delay, and bring us one step closer to putting rules on the books to protect consumers and entrepreneurs online.”