FCC Moves a Step Closer to Regulating Broadband

In a bid to ensure universal access to affordable, high-quality broadband services, promote an innovative and competitive market and empower consumers, the US Federal Communications Commission opened a public inquiry about the regulation of Internet access.

Last week the FCC voted 3-2 to collect public comments on whether it should reclassify broadband regulation under existing rules for phone services. Chair Julius Genachowski and two fellow Democrats want to ensure the free flow of information and implement recommendations from the National Broadband Plan.

"A recent decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit cast doubt on prior understandings about the FCC’s ability to ensure fair competition and provide consumers with basic protections when they use today’s broadband Internet services," the agency said in a press release (pdf).

The statement adds, "Today’s action begins the process of identifying the best way forward to ensure a solid and narrowly tailored legal foundation for implementing key recommendations of the National Broadband Plan – such as refocusing the federal universal service program on promoting broadband deployment and adoption, ensuring consumers have access to relevant information about their broadband services, customer privacy, and access for people with disabilities – as well as for preserving the open Internet."

Basically, the FCC asks the public if it favors a “telecommunications service” classification of broadband Internet access over the current “information service” classification. In merely regulating broadband access, the agency seeks a “third way”, under which it would keep Internet content and applications generally unregulated.

Not surprisingly, large telecoms operators and cable companies oppose this third way, fearing that the FCC might use its increased authority to impose Net neutrality requirements. Other critics say the agency cannot just pick and choose what rules to apply for broadband service. However, some competitive ISPs and telcos support a third way.

In a separate statement (pdf), Mr. Genachowski said, "It’s not hard to understand why companies subject to an agency’s oversight would prefer no oversight at all if they had the chance.

But a system of checks and balances in the communications sector has served our country well for many decades, fostering trillions of dollars of investment in wired and wireless communications networks, and in content, applications, and services – and creating countless jobs and consumer benefits."

Source: FCC, Reuters, Connected Planet

Related: US Broadband Policy: Congress Should Debate Policy Now (eGov monitor).

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