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The FCC is pretending to back down from its controversial net neutrality plan

Updated May 12th, 2014 10:00AM EDT

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Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to let ISPs charge content providers more money to make sure that their traffic gets delivered more quickly is probably not the most popular idea. In fact, it’s not only provoked an outcry from pro-net neutrality advocates but has also led to protests from congressmen, major tech firms and venture capitalists who do a lot of work with tech startups. Because of this backlash, it seems that Wheeler is signaling an intention to back down: The Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC is “revising proposed rules for regulating broadband Internet, including offering assurances that the agency won’t allow companies to segregate Web traffic into fast and slow lanes.”

However, just because Wheeler is signaling an intention to back down, that doesn’t mean that he actually is. The Journal’s sources say that Wheeler’s newest plan “is sticking to the same basic approach but will include language that would make clear that the FCC will scrutinize the deals to make sure that the broadband providers don’t unfairly put non-paying companies’ content at a disadvantage.”

In other words, the new plan will still allow ISPs to strike deals with big players such as Google and Netflix to make sure that their content gets delivered on a fast lane while insisting that the FCC will have the right to make sure that these deals aren’t putting competitors at a disadvantage. Basically, this is the exact same endgame as the one in Wheeler’s original plan, only this time he’s decided to add some more language to assure us that the plan really isn’t supposed to do what he’s designed it to do.

These kinds of cosmetic changes that Wheeler will reportedly propose aren’t likely to quiet critics of the FCC’s plan, but it is interesting to see that he at least feels some need to pretend to cave to outside pressure.

Brad Reed
Brad Reed Staff Writer

Brad Reed has written about technology for over eight years at and Network World. Prior to that, he wrote freelance stories for political publications such as AlterNet and the American Prospect. He has a Master's Degree in Business and Economics Journalism from Boston University.