WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to move forward with a set of proposed rules aimed at guaranteeing an open Internet, prohibiting high-speed Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against legal content flowing through their pipes.
Though the plan is meant to prevent data from being knowingly slowed by Internet providers, it would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against content not sent along that lane.
Three Democratic commissioners on the five-member panel, including chairman Tom Wheeler, voted in favor of opening the plan to public comment. The plan will be open for comment for four months, starting immediately.
The two Republicans who voted against the plan said it exceeds the agency's legal authority, there has been no evidence of actual harm or deviation from Net neutrality principles, and Congress should decide the issue, not regulatory appointees.
FCC staff members explained that the proposal would aim to enhance the transparency rule that requires Internet service providers to tell consumers how they manage their traffic, a regulation that was upheld in court, and would set a "commercially reasonable" standard to judge conduct that is not covered by a blanket no-blocking rule.
The proposed rules would also include an enforcement mechanism and establish an ombudsman to help investigate complaints from the public and provide guidance about the commission's processes.
"We are dedicated to protecting and preserving an open Internet," Wheeler said immediately before the commission vote. "What we're dealing with today is a proposal, not a final rule. We are asking for specific comment on different approaches to accomplish the same goal, an open Internet."
But Wheeler said the proposed rules do not deal with the connection between an Internet service provider, which provides a connection to consumers, and the operators of backbone transport networks that connect various portions of the Internet's central plumbing.
That essentially means that as long as an Internet service provider does not slow the service a consumer pays for, the provider can give faster service to a company that pays to get its content to consumers unimpeded.