Mozilla has asked the Federal Communications Commission to avoid allowing internet service providers to charge websites for faster connection speed, as the agency is considering new rules that could end the open-internet era.
In a filing with the FCC, the nonprofit foundation and maker of the web browser Firefox offered a novel legal path that suggests to the federal agency that it can enact network-neutrality regulations without creating a tiered internet, as critics characterize the FCC’s current reform plan.
Chris Riley, a Mozilla senior policy engineer, said the proposal is "grounded in a modern understanding of technology and markets" and would "help ensure that the Internet continues to be an innovative and open platform."
In January, a federal appeals court threw out the FCC’s old net-neutrality rules, saying the agency did not have the power to require internet service providers to treat all traffic equally. New rules would be designed to withstand future court challenges, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says.
The agency’s latest proposal would not allow internet service providers (ISPs) to block websites, but it would allow them to charge websites for preferential treatment, or special “fast lanes,” at “commercially reasonable” terms on a case-by-case basis. The FCC will vote on the plan on May 15. If the rules are passed, they would then be open to public comment.
Opponents call the new rules an end to a neutral, open web that would allow ISPs and the most powerful, cash-flush entities to further dictate internet operations on the broadest of terms.
Consumer-advocacy groups want the FCC to reclassify broadband internet service as a Title II “telecommunications service” that would allow the FCC to maintain authority that bars fast lanes. Yet such a reclassification would anger others who warn that the FCC would be giving itself potent regulatory powers that could stifle possible growth of broadband networks.
Mozilla advocates for the FCC to use the Title II option pertaining to the relationship between websites and ISPs, but not the relationship between consumers and ISPs, the group wrote.
This proposal would allow the FCC to bar ISPs from charging websites for fast lanes while still using regulatory power to maintain an open internet and for other consumer issues, the group said. Mozilla said their option could not be deemed a “reclassification” because the FCC has never outlined the relationship between ISPs and websites.
"With our proposal, the FCC would be able to shift its attention away from authority questions once and for all, and focus instead on adopting clear rules prohibiting blocking and discrimination online," Riley wrote in a Mozilla blog post.
Harold Feld, a senior vice president for the consumer group Public Knowledge, called the proposal a laudable, "novel idea" for protecting net neutrality.
"This creates a new constituency that says Title II is not a 'nuclear option.' Title II is a technical thing that you've got to do," Feld told Nextgov.com.
Others aren’t so sure that Mozilla’s plan is any more politically viable than a complete Title II option.
The “practical effect of their proposal would be almost exactly the same as reclassification of broadband generally,” said Berin Szoka, president of the libertarian group TechFreedom, adding that the implementation of the plan, while attractive on paper, would be "messy, slow, and unpredictable."
"Opening the door to Title II at all would still create significant regulatory uncertainty that would harm broadband investment, and thus make consumers worse off," he said.