Genachowski to reclassify portions of broadband to assert FCC authority over Internet access
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has decided to reclassify portions of broadband as a telecommunications service, allowing the FCC to carry out a net neutrality rule by putting the companies that provide Internet access more concretely under its control.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will announce his decision on Thursday, the agency said. Any proposal would be open to public comments and then up for a vote from the five-member commission. The decision comes after pressure Wednesday by key lawmakers and public interest groups to reclassify broadband services, which were deregulated as a service the agency had "ancillary" authority over.
Sources said Genachowski appeared to have shifted his thinking from late last week, when it looked like he was not inclined to make such a move. Broadband service providers and the two Republican commissioners have warned against reclassifying broadband. They said doing so would create more regulatory burden from broadband providers. One source with knowledge of the discussions in the FCC this week said a letter from Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) supporting reclassification provided political support for the FCC to shift Internet lines to a more regulatory framework but with lighter regulations. The lawmakers said if the FCC defined broadband as a telecommunications service, it would have to strip Internet access providers of rules that apply to phone companies. The move will be unpopular among broadband service providers and Republicans ahead of elections this fall.
An FCC official said in a statement that the agency's move will be somewhere between deregulation, the state of broadband services today, and a more regulatory approach.
“The Chairman will outline a ‘third way’ approach between a weak Title I and a needlessly burdensome Title II approach. It would 1) apply to broadband transmission service only the small handful of Title II provisions that, prior to the Comcast decision, were widely believed to be within the Commission’s purview, and 2) would have broad up-front forbearance and meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory overreach," the official said in a statement.
Currently broadband is categorized as a Title I information service with weak FCC oversight. Some proponents of net neutrality have called for the FCC to reclassify those services as a Title II common carrier service, which is more clearly under the FCC's authority.
The decision comes after a federal court decision created strong doubts that the FCC would be able to carry out portions of its national broadband plan and its proposed net neutrality rule, which would require all broadband providers to treat traffic equally on their networks.
“The Chairman will seek to restore the status quo as it existed prior to the court decision in order to fulfill the previously stated agenda of extending broadband to all Americans, protecting consumers, ensuring fair competition, and preserving a free and open Internet," the official said in a statement.
Proponents of reclassification said the move appeared to be a change of position after key lawmamkers and a grass-roots campaign called for Genachowski to reclassify broadband services.
And Susan Crawford, a law professor at the University of Michigan and former economic adviser to President Obama said the move is a good middle ground for the FCC.
“The FCC has clearly thought through all the implications of using its regulatory authority to provide for a a level playing field for innovation and job creation in America," Crawford said. "The FCC has reached the right result.”
Genachowski's office and general counsel are briefing officials Wednesday on his decision. Democratic Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn have said they would support a proposal by Genachowski to reclassify broadband.
May 5, 2010; 5:03 PM ET
| Tags: Federal Communications Commission, Network neutrality
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