Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler revealed Wednesday that he’ll propose applying decades-old communications rules to Internet service providers to ensure that the Internet remains open to all legal content, an option that cable companies and other ISPs had feared and fought against vigorously.
That Wheeler wants to apply the “Title II” authority for new net neutrality rules — named after the Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 — to regulate ISPs like public utilities has been widely anticipated by industry watchers in recent weeks.
President Obama said late last year that he favored the Title II option. Wheeler also indicated that he was leaning toward the approach — which would impose stringent rules on Internet providers — at the CES trade show in Las Vegas last month.
Wheeler’s proposal would mostly ban content providers from paying cable Internet companies, phone companies and wireless carriers to buy faster Internet “lanes” for their service, a practice known as “paid prioritization.” ISPs also specifically will be prohibited from blocking or deliberately slowing (“throttling”) access to legal content.
“Using (the Title II) authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC,” Wheeler wrote in a story posted Wednesday on Wired.com. “These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply — for the first time ever — those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”
Wheeler’s proposal will allow exceptions to Title II requirements and refrain from some provisions that don’t apply to ISPs. To encourage Internet providers to continue to invest, Wheeler also said he’ll “modernize” Title II and “tailor it for the 21st century.”
The FCC will not regulate pricing and will impose no tariffs or rules that would require unbundling of services for consumers, he said. ISPs also will be allowed to conduct Internet pipe engineering work related to “reasonable network management.”
Some data services that don’t go over the public Internet — such as voice-over-Internet phones and heart-monitoring services — will not be subject to the rules.
Consumer advocates, who have lobbied for the Title II option, cheered Wheeler’s announcement. “The Internet is the town hall of the 21st century; if we want our democracy to flourish, we must see that it remains open to everyone,” said Miles Rapoport, president of non-profit group Common Cause. “That’s why today’s signal that the FCC will reclassify Internet service under Title II … is so important.”
The cable industry saw this move coming. In a blog post late Monday, AT&T vice president for federal regulatory Hank Hultquist said the company will likely sue if Title II was applied. “Those who oppose efforts at compromise because they assume Title II rests on bulletproof legal theories are only deceiving themselves,” he wrote.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Roger Yu and Mike Snider