The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed net neutrality rules that would be based on reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility. He plans to ask fellow commissioners to approve that approach later this month.
In an article written for Wired.com, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed net neutrality rules that would reverse a long-standing agency practice of treating broadband as a lightly regulated information service. Instead, broadband would be classified as a regulated common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
"I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC," Wheeler wrote. "These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services."
The essay reflects a change in Wheeler’s outlook on net neutrality rules. About a year ago, he proposed regulations that would have allowed broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" network management. That proposal stemmed from a U.S. appeals court decision that seemed to suggest such an approach to net neutrality rules.
Later, though, "I became concerned that this relatively new concept might, down the road, be interpreted to mean what is reasonable for commercial interests, not consumers," Wheeler wrote.
Nudge From the President
Wheeler’s essay comes a few months after President Barack Obama called on the FCC to develop "the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality." The president had recommended that the agency reclassify broadband as a telecom service rather than an information service.
The proposed approach, also known as Title II or common carrier, would give the FCC more authority over broadband providers than it had previously. "Simply put: No service should be stuck in a 'slow lane' because it does not pay a fee," Obama said at the time. "That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth."
The revised net neutrality rules are scheduled for a commission vote on February 26. They would apply to both wired and mobile broadband service, even though the FCC’s 2010 rules held mobile carriers to a lower standard.
"My proposal assures the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission," wrote Wheeler.
It’s almost certain that broadband providers will challenge Title II rules in court. If the FCC agency redefines broadband as including a common-carrier service, it would empower itself "to regulate virtually every tech company that combines transmission with information to deliver digital goods and services to customer," according to a Tuesday blog post written by Hank Hultquist, AT&T’s vice president for federal regulatory issues.
"Social networks, digital music, video chat, and even Internet search are all examples of information services that are provided via telecommunications, and thus have a transmission component that could be segregated and regulated under Title II," Hultquist wrote.