Report: FCC Chair To Propose Actual Net Neutrality, Reclassification Of Broadband Services

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It’s been a long strange year for the internet, after a court threw out the net neutrality rule in January, 2014. But after comments, protests, legal threats, and a whole lot of back-and-forth, it now looks like the FCC chairman is poised to have the commission vote to regulate broadband services like phone services, under Title II of the Communications Act.

The Wall Street Journal reports that chairman Tom Wheeler will circulate a proposal among the other commissioners this week that seeks to reclassify broadband as telecommunications services — common carriers — rather than the information services they are currently. That reclassification would allow the FCC to require, among other things, that broadband ISPs not discriminate among the traffic that travels their networks, neither speeding any up nor slowing any down.

Consumer advocate groups — including our colleagues down the hall at Consumers Union — have been calling for the FCC to reclassify broadband as a Title II service almost since the week an appeals court vacated the 2010 Open Internet Rule. But until recently, the FCC did not appear prepared to make that move.

Wheeler’s first (weak) proposal met with displeasure from consumer advocates, prompted a solid ribbing from comedian John Oliver, and resulted in a record-setting four million comments to the agency between May and August of 2014. Even commissioners who voted to consider it didn’t really like it.

Wheeler’s office then floated a second, “hybrid” approach in October, but that one fared even worse and ticked basically everyone off. ISPs and consumer advocates alike hated it, though for different reasons.

In a profile of Wheeler published earlier this week, Politico says that Wheeler had been hoping to avoid reclassification because of the conflict it was likely to cause as he had to work with businesses on other issues. However, when the White House officially threw in for Title II and asked the FCC to reclassify, the situation changed.

Wheeler said at CES in early January that he was leaning toward the reclassification approach, even as he also admitted that he expects the FCC to be challenged in court no matter what rule the commission makes. And indeed, Verizon and others have threatened lawsuits if broadband services are reclassified, although they have also admitted that Title II regulation won’t be the disaster they have claimed.

Wheeler will circulate the proposal to the other four members of the commission this Thursday, February 5. The commission will vote on the proposal in their February 26 open meeting (along with petitions on municipal broadband).

FCC to Propose Strong ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules [Wall Street Journal]

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