FCC to Push for Broadband Regulation, Net Neutrality
Using rules first established for traditional phone networks, the Federal Communications Commission plans to regulate Internet service providers in an effort to preserve net neutrality, which prohibits providers from favoring certain Websites and services.In a surprise reversal, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski is expected to begin to outline plans this week for increased regulation of the broadband industry, using rules set in place for landline phone networks. Specifically, the agency will reclassify Internet lines as common carrier services under Title 2 of the Communications Act, reversing a deregulatory step made in 2002. The move is a push to guarantee the concept of "net neutrality," whereby Internet service providers are prohibited from discriminating against access to certain sites and services on the Web.
The news comes in the wake of an April 6 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which threw out the FCC's decision to regulate Comcast's online management. The court ruled the FCC "has failed to tie its assertion" of regulatory authority to any actual law enacted by Congress, and the agency does not have the authority to regulate an Internet provider's network management practices.
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, UBS analyst John Hodulik said cable companies like Comcast would be certain to fight any regulatory efforts by the FCC, claiming it would discourage investment in the industry. That claim, however, has been disputed in a report by the media watchdog Free Press. "You could have regulators involved in every facet of providing Internet over time," Hodulik told the paper. "How wholesale and prices are set, how networks are interconnected and requirements that they lease out portions of their network."
Josh Silver, president and CEO of Free Press, called the decision "extremely welcome news" and called it a "sensible broadband policy framework" that would protect consumers and promote universal access. "We reserve judgment, however, on whether the FCC has gone far enough to protect consumers with this new proposal. We are eager to see the details and evaluate whether the commission's approach is the best path toward achieving the goals of open, affordable, world-class Internet access," he said in a statement. "We are gratified that the calls from consumers and concerned Internet users across America are being heard. The Chairman is stepping up to the plate."
The FCC raised the ire of Free Press earlier this week when it was reported that Genachowski said the FCC would keep the current regulatory structure of broadband Internet service providers such as Comcast. The report, first published in the Washington Post, suggested the FCC will be unable to enforce a "net neutrality" rule, which forces broadband providers to treat all Websites and applications as equals. The article cited unnamed sources who said the chairman thought "reclassifying" would serve as an investment deterrent for broadband providers and wants to keep broadband services deregulated.