FCC Chairman Confirms Reclassifying of Broadband Service to Enforce Net Neutrality

by Matt Klassen on February 5, 2015

After years of legal challenges, flip flopping, and knuckling under, the Federal Communications Commission’s Net Neutrality rules are finally beginning to take shape…of course that’s what we all thought the last three times the FCC’s ‘final’ proposal for an open Internet was put forth, so you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not overly excited yet.

But that said, I am encouraged by what FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said on Wednesday, as he confirmed that the final rules for the Net Neutrality standards will put more weight on consumer protection, and thus include regulation for both wired and wireless Internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. That means that the Internet will now be considered a common carrier, or in other words, an essential telecommunication service, and will be regulated much like the phone industry.

Further, the proposed Net Neutrality regulations will ban paid prioritization (fast and slow lanes), maintain restrictions on arbitrary throttling and prevent carriers from blocking traffic.

Of course while Wheeler’s proposal has basically everything Net Neutrality supporters could reasonably have hoped for, that means it will face stiff opposition and legal challenges going forward that will make it that much more difficult to enact. But at least if nothing else we can say that finally Net Neutrality looks the way it should, regulating both wired and wireless Internet and protecting customers in what has been a particularly lawless industry.

There’s no question that reclassifying Internet service under Title II will be a paradigm altering change for how the Internet is regulated, giving the FCC significant authority over carriers and their networks. Originally Title II was established to empower the FCC to set rates and enforce the “common carrier principle,” an egalitarian notion that every customer needs to be treated the same in regards to telephone service. Now the FCC wants to apply this notably antiquated principle to Internet traffic in hopes of preventing broadband providers from favouring some data more than others.

In an op-ed piece posted on Wired.com, Wheeler notes that the FCC’s use of Title II regulations were what has allowed the Internet to become what it is today, opening doors for new companies and new competition by restricting how incumbent carriers could establish, operate, and manage their respective telecom networks.

As he explains, “The internet wouldn’t have emerged as it did, for instance, if the FCC hadn’t mandated open access for network equipment in the late 1960s. Before then, AT&T prohibited anyone from attaching non-AT&T equipment to the network. The modems that enabled the internet were usable only because the FCC required the network to be open.”

Of course, as I mentioned, these regulations won’t go through without a fight, as the broadband industry, including telecom, mobile, and cable providers, have long argued that such regulations will stifle network investment and stall innovation. For his part, Wheeler has clearly tried to assuage such fears, noting that Title II regulations will need to be modified and updated to make sense for the 21st century.

“All of this can be accomplished while encouraging investment in broadband networks,” he said in the op-ed. “To preserve incentives for broadband operators to invest in their networks, my proposal will modernize Title II, tailoring it for the 21st century, in order to provide returns necessary to construct competitive networks.”

In the end, while I’m encouraged by Wheeler’s recognition that, “The internet must be fast, fair and open,” the truth of the matter is that nothing has happened yet. Although the proposal is indeed everything I could have reasonably asked for with Net Neutrality, the fact of the matter is that there’s still plenty of time for this to get fully and completely neutered, so until I see otherwise I’m still going to assume that this will end badly for consumers, simply because it always does.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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