Despondent Netflix CEO Reed Hastings wants to know: "What is the FCC thinking?" So should every Internet user who values net neutrality, the core principle that holds that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.
Hastings posed the question on his Facebook page in response to Federal Communication Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's new proposal to allow Internet service providers to charge content companies higher fees for faster access for their users.
The FCC will make a preliminary vote May 15 on Wheeler's proposal. If it passes, it's the death of the Internet as we know it. Silicon Valley and consumers should rise up in force and demand that net neutrality be preserved.
Consumer advocates were nervous from the outset over President Barack Obama's appointment of Wheeler to head the FCC in 2013. They were rightly concerned that instead of someone who would protect users' interests, the president was offering up a fox to watch over the FCC henhouse.
Wheeler is a former cable industry lobbyist who earned a living for more than a decade offering campaign donations in exchange for congressional favors for big corporations.
Wheeler last week strongly disputed the notion that his proposal would imperil net neutrality. He insisted that his plan restricts broadband providers such as Comcast and Verizon from blocking or slowing any individual website. He argues that his proposal merely allows providers to make deals with Internet companies for premium speeds.
Wheeler said the FCC would be charged with examining deals on a case-by-case basis. Skepticism of Wheeler and the FCC's ability to police Internet rules is well deserved.
The proposed merger of Time Warner Cable and Comcast would bring together the two largest Internet providers in the nation. The pressure on the FCC to approve any premium deals would be enormous.
Government agencies do not have a good track record of protecting consumers when gray areas exist in regulations. Consumers can be excused if they're not optimistic about the chances of a former industry lobbyist considering their needs when case-by-case decisions are rendered.
Silicon Valley should be especially alarmed because its very future is dependent on its innovative startups having the ability to emerge with the fewest number of obstacles.
Under the proposed rules, most startups wouldn't have the buckets of cash necessary to compete with Internet bullies for premium Internet status.
The beauty of the Internet and net neutrality is users' ability to choose equally for materials without regard to price. Preserving equal access for consumers should be the top priority of the FCC chairman.