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FCC chairman hears criticism from both parties on Net neutrality

On Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission chairman, Tom Wheeler, sat before various House members and received criticism from all ends of the spectrum on the proposed rules for governing the Internet as well as his middle-ground approach on Net neutrality.

 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler listens during a news conference after an open meeting to receive public comment on proposed open Internet notice of proposed rulemaking and spectrum auctions May 15, 2014 at the FCC headquarte
Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Last week, Wheeler laid out his plan to replace 2010’s since-rejected Net neutrality regulations. His plan involves prohibiting Internet service providers from blocking legal content, slowing the speed of service below what has been paid for and prioritizing the delivery of their own content. He would also set up a watchdog group to monitor for such things.

Republican members criticized how far Wheeler’s plan goes, saying the growth of the Internet would be stifled by government regulations. Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) told Wheeler that so far, the Internet has flourished under a ‘light-touch’ approach and that regulations would in fact, be a bad move.

And on the other side, Democrats—though occasionally praising his plan—believe it doesn’t go far enough. They believe his regulations won’t be enough to stop Internet service providers from charging companies extra for high-speed delivery of their content, or an Internet fast lane, essentially. They believe that if ISPs are able to charge for high-speed service, it will divide out companies into big and corporate and small and startup, with the small start-ups ultimately failing due to lack of funds.

Wheeler acknowledged these comments and complaints as well as the protests that took place outside the FCC’s headquarters last week when Wheeler advanced his Net neutrality plan. He continued to assert that he believes there is but one Internet and there is no room for a fast lane or a slow lane. He said, “… When the consumer buys access to the Internet, they are buying access to the full Internet and that’s what our rules attempt to protect.”

The four-month comment period that is now open will allow officials as well as members of the public to ask questions such as, how do we make sure ISPs aren’t going to becoming the Internet’s gatekeepers? And: Should the Internet service be treated as a utility?

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