WASHINGTON (CNS) — The Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rules to regulate Internet traffic are in harmony with what Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City and more than a dozen religious bodies asked the FCC to do in September.
Under the FCC proposal unveiled Feb. 4, there will be no paid prioritization of the Internet, the so-called “fast lanes” that allow Internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast to charge extra to companies like Netflix to carry their much-in-demand content unimpeded. The proposal also would clamp down on data sponsored by advertisers.
Another proposed rule from the FCC also prohibits “throttling,” the practice of slowing down users’ Internet connections for any reason.
Last fall, when the FCC was seeking comment from Americans on the degree to which it should regulate online traffic, Bishop Wester, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Communications, advocated for an open Internet in a Sept. 16 op-ed essay.
“Access to the Internet is as essential and necessary for Americans as is access to education, news and other services that allow us to flourish and make positive contributions to society,” Bishop Wester wrote.
But a “two-tiered” Internet, which the FCC flirted with in 2014, “will impair for many Americans this basic need — fast, reliable access to all Internet content,” he added. “Instead of adopting rules that permit the wealthiest companies to purchase the best service, the FCC should insist on fair treatment for everyone no matter our income.”
A day earlier, more than a dozen religious bodies, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, sent a joint letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the other four FCC commissioners similarly arguing that the Internet must remain available to all without “fast lanes” and other devices meant to speed up traffic for extra revenue while keeping nonpaying traffic in a slow lane.
“We are concerned about paid prioritization and other policies that will increase costs and limit opportunities for our organizations and the communities we serve,” said the multidenominational letter sent Sept. 15.
“Robust net neutrality protections are essential for all sectors of society, including ours,” it said.
Wheeler in a statement issued with the release of the proposed rules said: “The time to settle the net neutrality question has arrived.”
He noted that public comment to the FCC on the issue had lasted a decade and the FCC had received 4 million messages on the topic.
Net neutrality is the principle that all legal Internet traffic should be treated the same. Backers of this concept have in recent years called it “the open Internet.”
Backers of net neutrality say an open Internet could spawn the same kind of continued innovation and entrepreneurship that brought such online giants as Wikipedia, Google and Facebook to life. Allowing paid prioritization and throttling, they contended would keep the existing giants as king of the hill, making it much harder for new ideas to gain a commercial toehold.
The FCC has rulemaking authority. It also has enforcement authority, saying in its rulemaking proposal that complaints about unequal Internet treatment would be investigated by the FCC.
Congress could undo what the FCC sets in place, but it would likely be an empty exercise, as President Barack Obama in November urged the FCC to adopt the “strongest possible rules” on net neutrality, and is likely to veto any bill that curbs the FCC’s rules or its rule-making authority.
Bishop Wester, on behalf of the Catholic Church, said he was concerned about the marginalization of church- and religious-run websites, as no church or ministry has the deep pockets of companies who could afford to pay for fast-lane service from Internet service providers. Because of relaxed rules governing local TV stations, infomercials occupy the airtime where live TV Masses once were broadcast. Dioceses now have to record Masses well in advance of airing rather than celebrating Mass live in a studio as had been the practice.
Critics have complained that the FCC’s use of a 1934 regulatory framework for Internet rules is proof that the FCC’s thinking is outmoded. They plan to challenge the proposed rules in court on constitutional grounds — ironically, using a document that was last updated in 1992, years before the Internet came into popular use.