Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler changed his tune last week and hinted he might be willing to help preserve an open Internet.

He should go all in and present a plan to the FCC next month that reclassifies and regulates Internet service providers as common carriers (similar to a public utility) under Title II of the Communications Act.

Before Wheeler’s hint, during an interview at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, he had been floating an unpopular idea to fundamentally change the way the Internet works today. His plan, supported by broadband giants such as Verizon, proposed that major websites such as Amazon.com could pay a premium fee to be in their own fast lane (with their information delivered quickly to customers). Other online players with fewer resources — including startups, artists and other small businesses — would be left in a lane with potentially slower load times for consumers.

The plan drew millions of negative comments from Internet users who demanded that the FCC preserve what is known as net neutrality.

Wheeler made no promises during Wednesday’s appearance, but he signaled to the tech-savvy crowd he would champion rules that include “no blocking, no throttling, (no) paid prioritization.”

By reclassifying broadband Internet service providers, the FCC would ensure that the Internet remains a place where information flows freely and ideas have equal opportunity to spread. The next innovative startup — as Facebook or YouTube were in the past — stands a better chance of getting noticed.

Wheeler says he plans to submit detailed plans to the five-member FCC on Feb. 5. A final vote is scheduled for Feb. 26.

The panel must stand up to industry lobbyists. Commissioners cannot ignore the scores of Internet users who nearly crashed the FCC’s website during last year’s commenting period. The vast majority of Americans who favor net neutrality will be watching.

So will President Barack Obama, who appointed every FCC member. The president himself recently came out in strong favor of reclassifying the Internet as a utility — accessible to all and free of fast lanes.

Editorial by The Seattle Times

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: