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Democratic FCC commissioner reportedly has some problems with net neutrality proposal

Democratic FCC commissioner reportedly has some problems with net neutrality proposal

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One of the commissioners whose vote will be needed to pass the FCC's new net neutrality proposal on Thursday appears to have some concerns over the rules. The Hill reports that Democratic commissioner and former acting-chairwoman Mignon Clyburn would like see some adjustments to the proposal, seemingly in order to provide more clarity for companies investing in broadband. Critically, the changes she's interested in appear to be minor and would still leave in place the bulk of the proposal, including Title II reclassification.

One big issue is around a contingency plan

Clyburn is reportedly concerned with precisely to which services the FCC plans to apply Title II regulation. Commission chairman Tom Wheeler only wants to apply them to a single service: the internet service that consumers buy from ISPs. But his proposal says that if courts find it necessary, the commission will also identify and apply Title II regulation to a second service: a newly identified service between ISPs and content providers, like Netflix. This is basically a contingency plan to make sure that reclassification doesn't totally fail, but both the uncertainty of how it will play out and the commission's suggestion that there are kind-of-sort-of two separate services going on here are issues that Clyburn reportedly views as problems. She only wants there to be a single service.

Clyburn isn't alone. Ars Technica reported yesterday that Google and the advocacy group Free Press have also taken issue with this area of the proposal. To be clear, this is not a sign that any of these parties are pushing back against net neutrality — rather, they're concerned about how it's being implemented. Clyburn's concerns may be around the uncertainty of only defining the separate service if necessary. Google is concerned that identifying a separate service might actually open up new opportunities for ISPs to charge for that service. Free Press just thinks that the decision lacks both legal and common sense. Again, this is only a contingency plan, so it may not come into play — and, while it could make the commission's legal backing weaker, it may not be that big of a deal for the FCC to remove.

Any changes will be decided before Thursday's vote

The other issue that Clyburn is reported to have with the proposal is around the standard that it creates for governing ISPs behavior. Wheeler is proposing that ISPs should not be able to harm consumers or content providers, but Clyburn would reportedly prefer to use the old standard, which prevents "unreasonable discrimination." While this may sound like weaker language, comments from Clyburn in a speech last week suggest that she sees "unreasonable discrimination" as a stronger standard.

Clyburn's office would not confirm or deny the report. "Commissioner Clyburn continues to advocate for strong open internet protections for consumers and looks forward to voting on the item on Thursday," the office writes in an email to The Verge.

We'll find out about any changes to the proposal on Thursday. In the weeks since Wheeler's proposal was first circulated to the commissioners, they've all had the chance to propose changes to it. If anything has been agreed upon, it'll make it into the final draft that we see later this week. While it's not clear how steadfast Clyburn is about seeing these changes, Wheeler is likely to make amendments if they'll get her on board without significantly weakening the proposal. He needs Clyburn's vote — and it sounds like other savvy parties are in agreement about some of these potential changes.