The FCC has outlined its reworked plan to achieve net neutrality, following its defeat in the federal courts last month, including the possibility of reclassifying ISPs altogether so as to force through rules. The Federal Communications Commission was told it did not have the authority to stop broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast from prioritizing select internet traffic or, conversely, slowing other traffic, but the court pointed out that it may already have the power in other ways under existing telecoms laws. Now, FCC Commissioner Tom Wheeler says he will “accept that invitation” from the court.
In a statement issued today, Wheeler described the Verizon v. FCC ruling last month as the court having “invited the Commission to act to preserve a free and open Internet.” That’s an invitation Wheeler says he will follow up on, using Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of
1996 which already gives authority to the FCC to “encourage broadband deployment by, among other things, removing barriers to infrastructure deployment, encouraging innovation, and promoting competition.”
“I intend to accept that invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition. Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency” Tom Wheeler, Commissioner, FCC
Wheeler’s new plan hasn’t been fully detailed yet, with the FCC saying they will be decided on by late spring or early Summer 2014. Key themes are that the FCC move to enforce and enhance the transparency rule, which will force ISPs to reveal exactly how they shape traffic – such as throttling high-bandwidth video streaming from providers like Netflix –
as well as fulfilling the goal of “no blocking” which, while not agreeing with the FCC’s proposed methods, the D.C. Circuit court did concede was important.
“We will carefully consider how, consistent with the court opinion, we can ensure that edge providers are not unfairly blocked, explicitly or implicitly,from reaching consumers,” Wheeler said today, “as well as ensuring that consumers can continue to access any lawful content and services they choose.”
Meanwhile, the FCC will also put together a list of “key behaviors” which might be considered suspect among broadband providers, and indicate that they were not fulfilling neutrality commitments.
One lingering possibility – and another that the court highlighted – is reclassifying internet access service as a telecommunications service, in effect defining them as the common carriers some have argued they really are. While Wheeler recognizes this as an option, he appears reluctant to push for it, something a statement on behalf of President Obama from the Whitehouse seems to concur with.
“The petition asked that the President direct the FCC to reclassify Internet service providers as “common carriers” which, if upheld, would give the FCC a distinct set of regulatory tools to promote net neutrality” Gene Sperling, Assistant to the President for Economic Policy, wrote in response to a public petition demanding common carrier reclassification. “The FCC is an independent agency. Chairman Wheeler has publicly pledged to use the full authority granted by Congress to maintain a robust, free and open Internet – a principle that this White House vigorously supports.”
Accordingly, the FCC won’t appeal the Verizon v. FCC decision, Wheeler confirmed.