FCC to propose treating ISPs as public utilities

The FCC might be heating up the old net neutrality debate again come Thursday. The agency is expected to propose the rules that would determine how business around the Internet will be treated in the years to come. In this latest version, FCC chair Tom Wheeler is expected to adopt President Obama's stance to treat broadband providers the same way telecommunications companies are treated and to regulate them as public utilities, giving government more weight over the deals between broadband providers and content providers, much to the chagrin of many in the industry.

It isn't surprising that service providers prefer the status quo, where they have more freedom with regards to the deals they make and how they deliver Internet connectivity to consumers. Net neutrality advocates, however, hold that the same status quo would allow big companies choke out smaller fry by paying to have their content delivered faster to consumers.

Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, was seen to be siding with big industry players with his "hybrid" solution. His hands, however, were effectively tied when Obama publicly announced his support for net neutrality last year. Now Wheeler is believed to have conceded and will be proposing very strong net neutrality rules that would bring broadband providers in line under Title II of the Communications Act, which will treat them the same way telecoms, providing government with more intrusive powers in regulating Internet management.

Of course, the fight is far from over even if Wheeler has somewhat yielded. CTIA-The Wireless Association, made up of industry players, will definitely put up an opposition, depending on how the rules turn out. They are rooting for a different version of net neutrality, one that Congress has seemingly adopted. Aside from fears of imposing outdated regulations and scaring off investors, opponents of this stricter net neutrality hold that it could give government the power to impose their own prices, even if Obama's administration claims to currently have no such plans.

Wheeler is expected to present his proposal on Thursday, but the voting won't happen until the FCC's open meeting on February 26. A majority of votes from the FCC's five commissioners are needed for the rules to take effect.

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal