Net neutrality has been a topic of heated debate this week following FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler’s proposal to allow broadband Internet carriers to charge web sites access fees for preferential treatment. Even though Obama claimed he was “a strong supporter of net neutrality,” a federal appeals court struck down important elements of the FCC’s Open Internet Order earlier this year. This has opened the door for Wheeler’s new proposal, which many fear will allow major corporations to control the flow of information online, leaving small businesses, nonprofits, and individuals behind in the virtual dust.
Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist, claimed that reports of the death of net neutrality are “flat out wrong,” and that this is not a “turnaround in policy.” Harvard Law professor Barbara van Schewick disagrees, pointing out that FCC’s own Open Internet Order strongly opposed the kind of access fees Wheeler is promoting. Van Schewick feels that these access fees, by increasing the cost of content and services provided online, would “fundamentally change the environment for innovation and free speech on the Internet.” Wheeler’s proposal is not yet law, and a petition making the rounds at the White House allows people to voice their concerns over net neutrality.