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FCC answers net neutrality questions on Twitter as vote draws near

FCC answers net neutrality questions on Twitter as vote draws near

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With only two days left before FCC chair Tom Wheeler publicly reveals his net neutrality proposal, the agency is hoping to answer questions from the public. At 2pm ET, FCC special counsel Gigi Sohn launched an hour-long Q&A session on Twitter, using the hashtag #FCCNetNeutrality. She drew a number of questions from people critical of the leaked version of Wheeler's plan — generally left-leaning net neutrality supporters have objected to language that would let companies pay ISPs for faster service to customers, and right- or libertarian-leaning opponents don't want net neutrality rules on the books at all. Sohn herself joined the FCC directly from advocacy group Public Knowledge, which one of the strongest proponents of net neutrality, and she reiterated Wheeler's support for the spirit of the Open Internet Order: "Chairman knows free market won't protect open internet," she said in one tweet. Unpopular as the leaked rules have been, they're an acknowledgment that some kind of framework is needed.

Sohn didn't give too much more detail than what we've already heard, but she did confirm that the FCC still has a few different options on the table. The current proposal applies to both wireline and wired broadband, though there could be different rules for each. It was drafted under the Section 706 rules granted by Congress, but Wheeler has said before that he has considered redefining broadband companies as "common carriers" subject to stricter regulation. According to one tweet, the proposal draft also "asks whether there are alternatives." Elsewhere, she said the FCC would ask for comment on a Mozilla petition that suggests a third way for net neutrality. If the overall proposal is adopted on Thursday, a 60-day public comment period will commence, followed by another 60 days for responses. The process would wrap up in September, and Sohn said they would try to make a decision by the end of 2014.

The draft also apparently tries to address some of the problems people have cited. On Twitter, Sohn didn't directly answer a question about whether the existence of a "fast lane" would by definition make everything else a "slow lane," but she did say that the draft would ask if "paid prioritization should be banned outright," the very issue that's caused most of the criticism. It would also look at the effect of net neutrality rules on underprivileged communities.

She also dealt with a strange aside: FCC commissioner Ajit Pai's claim that he and fellow conservative Michael O'Rielly had not been given a copy of the draft proposal. "When it comes to the Chairman's latest net neutrality proposal, the Democratic Commissioners are in the fast lane and the Republican Commissioners apparently are being throttled," Pai chief of staff Matthew Berry said in a statement issued today. "The Chairman's Office should end this discrimination and stop blocking the Republican Commissioners from seeing the Chairman's latest plan." Pai has previously called for the vote to be delayed, as has his more liberal colleague Jessica Rosenworcel. He didn't report any "blocking" at that point, and it's not totally clear whether he's referring to Wheeler's original proposal, an amended version whose details were leaked earlier this week, or a third, unseen one. When asked, Sohn said that "the draft proposal has been shared with all Commissioners."

Update May 13th, 2014 3:52pm: Updated to include questions and responses from Gigi Sohn.