FCC Seeks Consensus on New Effort to Make Network Neutrality Rules

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-02-19 Print this article Print

FCC commissioners Mike O'Reilly and Ajit Pai said immediately after the announcement that they think Wheeler's effort is doomed to fail, with Pai comparing it to the movie "Groundhog Day" in which the same events happen repeatedly.

Unlike in previous net neutrality efforts, there is little unanimity about whether the FCC should pursue the course that Wheeler has laid out. Common Cause, for example, says that the FCC should reclassify broadband under Title II. "I continue to believe that Title II reclassification is, by far, the surest and best way to guarantee consumer protections and free speech online. I hope the Commission will get there soon," said former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now a special adviser to Common Cause's Media and Democracy Reform initiative.

Meanwhile, Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said that he doesn't necessarily care how the FCC ensures net neutrality, just as long as it does.

"The FCC recognizes that both preserving open Internet access and enhancing competition are essential to ensuring the availability of high speed, affordable access to everything on the Internet for U.S. homes and businesses," Black said in a prepared statement. "We welcome their announcement today and urge them to follow through aggressively and expeditiously."

In a subsequent interview, Black told eWEEK his organization wants to see "an open Internet framework that's a good one, enforceable and predictable. The method of getting there isn't the goal. And I think there's an awful good argument that Title II needs to be explicitly defined in a way to deal with the real problem of Internet access competition issues."

In a sense, the FCC is trying to build public and industry consensus that supports net neutrality regulations under Section 706. While the existing rules were overturned on the grounds that the FCC hadn't set up its rules properly, the court did say that the FCC has the authority to regulate broadband. In addition, two major ISPs, AT&T and Comcast, have gone on record as supporting the FCC's net neutrality rules. Verizon, however, has vowed to fight them.

The FCC, meanwhile, is trying to avoid a huge political fight. This is one of those times when even though the agency theoretically has the authority to reclassify broadband so that it operates like a telephone company, having the authority and using it are two different things.

If the FCC decides to reclassify, there's every likelihood that substantial political opposition will emerge and a battle over the FCC's authority isn't something it wants. However, if the Commission is able to reach a general consensus through its hearing process, it will be in a much stronger position to make its rules stick.


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