NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The Internet is careening on a path toward a two-tiered network, a "fast-lane" for a handful of wealthy companies and a slow lane for the rest of us, said Craig Aaron, president of the advocacy group Free Press.
Aaron's dire forecast contrasted with an impassioned Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler who told a packed Washington, D.C. hearing room Thursday that he would work to guarantee that the Internet "remains free and open," the siren call of those who advocate for "net neutrality." The five-member FCC approved Wheeler's proposal to re-write rules to oversee Internet connectivity.
Wheeler's proposed rules are meant to balance calls for equal access to the Web with the demands of companies that have spend billions of dollars to build broadband networks. Nonetheless, the chairman's proposal would allow broadband providers such as Comcast (CMCSA - Get Report), the country's largest cable-TV operator, Verizon (V) and AT&T (T) to sell preferential services to those willing to pay for them. Wheeler and Democrat Commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted in favor of the resolution while the two Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly voted against.
Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel called for a delay in the entire process, saying she would prefer to explore rules that would regulate the Internet as a utility. Rosenworcel voted to concur.
But in the hearing room, packed with some of the Netroots activists who had camped outside of the FCC's Washington headquarters in anticipation of the hearing, doubts about the agency's resolve ran high. Aaron was among them.
"The rules as drafted won't accomplish the goals that the chairman said that he's trying to accomplish," Aaron said. "The path that the agency is moving forward with would still leave us open to a two-tiered Internet. Until the reality of the text matches the rhetoric, I can't say I'm happy."