Declaring that the Internet must not be taken over by big business interests, a top US regulator today proposed dramatically expanding the government's power to oversee Internet service providers and establishing new rules that would prohibit companies from blocking or slowing data.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal was a victory for consumer advocates who support "net neutrality," the idea that Internet providers allow data to move across its networks without interference. Open Internet rules had been in place but were recently knocked down by a federal court.
Wheeler's approach attempts to erase any legal uncertainty by reclassifying the Internet as a telecommunications service and regulating it much like telephones. The rules would apply to both wireless and wired services. Republicans and industry officials say that would discourage investment and increase taxes.
The FCC will vote Feb 26 on the proposal. "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 and deputy general counsel.
But Wheeler and consumer groups said the move is necessary to prevent providers from creating slow or fast lanes on the Internet in which content companies like Netflix can pay to jump to the head of the queue.
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"My proposal assures the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone's permission," Wheeler wrote in an opinion piece that Wired magazine posted online.
Wheeler's plan is an aggressive leap in Internet regulation in an industry that has so far seen little government oversight. The proposal calls for treating Internet service like a public utility, although Wheeler said he would not use the new regulations to tell broadband providers how much to charge customers, as the law would allow.
Industry is fighting this approach because it says it's only a matter of time before the rules grow more stringent and the FCC is regulating how much Internet providers can charge.