Last month, a federal appeals court struck down the core components of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, effectively opening the door for Internet service providers to block, throttle, or charge exorbitant fees to bandwidth-heavy content companies (Netflix, we’re all looking at you). The court had ruled that the FCC had never properly classified ISPs in a way that would allow the neutrality rules to apply. Today, FCC Chair Tom Wheeler unveiled a general outline for his plan to get those guidelines back in place.
Wheeler says the FCC will not appeal the court’s ruling in the lawsuit brought by Verizon that resulted in the gutting of net neutrality. Instead, he is proposing new rules “that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition.”
At issue in the court’s ruling was the FCC’s outdated classification of broadband Internet service. Once upon a time, the Commission needed to decide whether broadband constituted infrastructure or content. Had it been considered infrastructure, it would be subject to the non-discrimination regulations that apply to common carriers, like landline telephone service. But because ISPs were classified as information-providing services, they are not subject to those rules.
With the goal of fixing this glaring oversight, Wheeler said he will propose new rules that would reinstate bans on blocking Internet traffic to customers or discriminating against content providers. His plan leaves open the option of reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service.
Wheeler also wants to make sure the commission is enforcing the transparency rule — one of the few net neutrality aspects that survived the appeals court — which requires that ISPs disclose how they manage traffic.
“Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency,” writes Wheeler, echoing earlier statements from the Obama administration..
At least one commissioner disagrees.
In a statement responding to Wheeler’s announcement, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said that the Chair’s plan “reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day… I am skeptical that this effort will end any differently from the last.”