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This Tuesday is an important day in the fight to save the Internet.
As a source of innovation, an engine of our economy, and a forum for our political discourse, the Internet can only work if it's a truly level playing field. Small businesses should have the same ability to reach customers as powerful corporations. A blogger should have the same ability to find an audience as a media conglomerate.
This principle is called "net neutrality" -- and it's under attack. Internet service giants like Comcast and Verizon want to offer premium and privileged access to the Internet for corporations who can afford to pay for it.
The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission has the power to issue regulations that protect net neutrality. The bad news is that draft regulations written by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski don't do that at all. They're worse than nothing.
Late Monday, a majority of the FCC's commissioners indicated that they're going to vote with Chairman Julius Genachowski for a toothless Net Neutrality rule.
According to all reports, the rule, which will be voted on during tomorrow's FCC meeting, falls drastically short of earlier pledges by President Obama and the FCC Chairman to protect the free and open Internet.
The rule is so riddled with loopholes that it's become clear that this FCC chairman crafted it with the sole purpose of winning the endorsement of AT&T and cable lobbyists, and not defending the interests of the tens of millions of Internet users.
Welcome to AT&T's Internet
The rules are expected to bar providers from discriminating against legal Internet traffic and require more transparency. They also would let broadband providers for the first time charge more to companies that want faster service for delivery of games, videos or other services.
Net neutrality has become a contentious issue as worries grow that large phone and cable companies are growing too powerful as Internet gatekeepers. Start-ups and small businesses that rely on the Internet to provide shopping, information or other services to consumers are particularly concerned.
The FCC has wanted to step in and act as an Internet traffic cop, but Congress has never given it clear authority to do so.
"We must take action to protect consumers against price hikes and closed access to the Internet—and our proposed framework is designed to do just that: to guard against these risks while recognizing the legitimate needs and interests of broadband providers," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said in a blog post this month.
The proposal has split the five-member FCC board. The two Republican members say the proposed rules impose an unneeded burden and will discourage broadband investment.
Mr. Genachowski's two Democratic colleagues said his plan didn't go far enough, particularly on rules covering wireless networks, but agreed to back it anyway.