FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has announced plans for his agency's pursuit of net neutrality rules following the give-and-take ruling handed down by a court of appeals last month. The January ruling reinforced the FCC's authority on internet service regulation, the "transparency rule," while at the same time striking down the FCC's classification of internet service providers such as Verizon and Comcast as "common carriers," akin to telephone service providers.
The new proposals include strengthening the transparency rule, the "no blocking" rule in which content providers are assured their content is being treated equally to other providers as well as further developing the non-discrimination rules set forth in Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which gives the FCC authority to regulate and "promote competition" between internet service providers.
Importantly, the FCC stresses its capability to reclassify internet service as a telecommunications service, which would essentially supercede some of the measures overturned by the appeals court in January. If implemented, the move would give the FCC a broader mandate to regulate internet service providers since its authority is greater when dealing with "common carriers."
Free Press CEO Craig Aaron wrote in a statement that "pretending the FCC has authority won't actually help Internet users when websites are being blocked or services are being slowed down. If the agency really wants to stop censorship, discrimination and website blocking, it must reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service."
Ajit Pai, a commissioner at the FCC, released a dissenting opinion on Wheeler's moves, writing, "Today’s announcement reminds me of the movie 'Groundhog Day,'" stressing that he expects similar results -- court cases that end in defeat for the FCC -- from the new proposals.
These new proposals also seem to make moot proposed legislation, the "Open Internet Preservation Act," presented earlier this month by Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Anna Eshoo -- though congressional involvement could help Wheeler's cause, as commissioner Pai implored.
The announcement comes on the heels of Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable, two of the nation's largest broadband internet providers (a move expected to face tough scrutiny by the FCC) in addition to a pending patent from AT&T discovered earlier this month, originally filed in 2006, that would penalize customers that use an "excessive amount of . . . bandwidth" -- precisely what Tom Wheeler's FCC is trying to avoid.