Reaction to the FCC vote that could lead to pay-for-priority Internet

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The Federal Communications Commission on May 15 voted to propose a new rule that could let Internet service providers charge content companies for priority treatment, relegating other content to a slower tier of service.

The proposal follows a January decision by the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court that stuck down key provisions of the FCC’s existing net neutrality rules.

The day of the vote, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the FCC to condemn the plan and urge the FCC to protect "Net Neutrality." To beating drums and chants of “Save the Internet,” there were speeches delivered from Internet freedom advocates and social justice activists, who then filed into the meeting.

After the vote, Craig Aaron of the Free Press said, “Millions of people have put the FCC on notice. A pay-for-priority Internet is unacceptable. Today, both Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel stated that they support prohibitions on paid prioritization and other forms of unreasonable discrimination. Tom Wheeler spoke passionately about the open Internet, but his rousing rhetoric doesn't match the reality of his proposal. The only way to accomplish the chairman’s goals is to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers."

He continued, "The commission says it wants to hear from the public; it will be hearing a lot more. This fight will stretch into the fall, but there’s one clear answer: The American people demand real Net Neutrality, and the FCC must restore it."

Michael Copps, speaking as an adviser to Common Cause, said, "This is an alarming day for anyone who treasures a free and open Internet — which should be all of us. The FCC could have moved decisively to guarantee that the Internet remains an open platform for free expression and the exchange of democracy-sustaining communications. Instead, the Commission again left broadband users without the protections they deserve.

"Let's be clear. Any proposal to allow fast lanes for the few is emphatically not net neutrality. The clear common-sense prerequisite for an Open Internet is Title II reclassification, guaranteeing the agency's authority to protect consumers and ensure free speech online."

The American Civil Liberties Union also has concerns. Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel and policy advisor with the ACLU, said, "This proposed rule leaves the individual at the mercy of an increasingly concentrated broadband market, in which the big players will be able to act as gatekeepers for online speech, deciding what gets seen and when.

"Fortunately, the FCC left the door open to fix this problem by reclassifying broadband internet service as what it really is: a public utility, or in legal terms, a ‘common carrier,’ which we will continue to vigorously advocate for. This is a First Amendment issue because if broadband service providers are allowed to slow or block some content at will, they will be able to stifle the speech of internet users. The FCC must ensure that it has the tools necessary to prevent such blocking or discrimination against certain types of content."