WASHINGTON: Declaring the internet critical for the nation, a top US regulator on february 4 proposed an unprecedented expansion of federal power to ensure providers don’t block or slow web traffic for America’s countless users.
The proposal by Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler was a victory for advocates of “net neutrality,” the idea that internet providers must allow data to move across their networks without interference. The idea has been the subject of heavy lobbying and millions of dollars in advertising in the past year.
“Net neutrality” means that whether you’re trying to buy a necklace on Etsy, stream the season premiere of Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ or watch a music video on Google’s YouTube, your internet service provider would have to load all of those websites equally quickly. Major internet providers insist they have no plans to create such fast or slow lanes, but they strongly oppose the regulation, arguing that it could stifle innovation and investment.
Wheeler’s proposal attempts to erase any legal uncertainty by reclassifying the internet as a telecommunications service and regulating it under the 1934 Communications Act. The plan would apply to both wired service provided by companies like Comcast and wireless service by companies like T-Mobile.
That would put all internet service in the same regulatory camp as telephones and any other public utility, which Republicans and industry officials say would discourage investment and increase taxes.
The FCC will vote on February 26 on the proposal, and approval is considered likely. President Barack Obama has called for regulation under the Communications Act, and Democratic appointees hold a commission majority.
“It is counterproductive because heavy regulation of the internet will create uncertainty and chill investment among the many players —not just internet service providers —that now will need to consider FCC rules before launching new services,” said Michael Glover, Verizon senior vice president. But Wheeler and consumer groups say the move is necessary to prevent providers from creating slow or fast lanes on net in which content companies like Netflix can pay to jump to the head of the queue.