In a major shift in policy from last year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing to reclassify internet service as Title II to ensure net neutrality.
In a piece written for Wired, Wheeler laid out the basics of a proposal that, should it pass, would mark a major victory for net neutrality proponents seeking to enact the “nuclear option” encouraged by President Barack Obama last year.
Under Title II regulation, internet services would be regarded as public utilities and face more critical oversight to ensure that service providers are not throttling or slowing speeds for some users while giving preference to others. Essentially, it would maintain that the internet remains an equal playing ground.
“Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. 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,” wrote Wheeler.
Net neutrality has faced long opposition from telecommunications companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, who claim that regulating ISPs will slow innovation.
Comcast, in particular, has come under fire since a paid agreement with Netflix was announced after the video streaming service had been reporting slower speeds compared to competitors. With such back-end, “paid prioritization” agreements, larger content providers would pay ISPs in order to prevent slower speeds to their users. Consumer agencies argued that such prioritization prevented smaller start-up companies from competing with corporate giants that have the funds to pay for such “fast lanes.”
Comcast also faced opposition after leaked phone calls revealed an employee demanding a customer not shut off his service and last month when a bill changed a customer’s name to an expletive. The ISP has been consistently ranked as having the worst customer service in the country.
The movement for net neutrality kicked off after a court decision blocked the FCC from regulations they had implemented under older standards. Forced to go along with the court’s decision, Wheeler introduced a proposal that offered much looser regulation, enabled paid-prioritization, and generally drew ire from consumer protection agencies.
After comedian John Oliver blasted the proposal and urged internet users to write to the FCC during the proposal’s open comments period, the Commission was flooded with feedback, eventually shutting down the site and resulting in President Obama’s call for a Title II reclassification.
The new proposal will be voted on by the FCC, with many expected the two other Democrats two side with Wheeler for a 3-2 decision.
Though the new proposal would not regulate rates charged by companies, one of the larger issues for telecommunications companies, the new proposal is already gaining opposition from Republicans in Congress who have proposed their own net neutrality bills, claiming the reclassification oversteps the FCC’s authority. Even if such bills did pass both chambers of Congress, they would likely be vetoed by Obama.
Wheeler remains undeterred.
“My proposal will modernize Title II, tailoring it for the 21st century, in order to provide returns necessary to construct competitive networks. For example, there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling. Over the last 21 years, the wireless industry has invested almost $300 billion under similar rules, proving that modernized Title II regulation can encourage investment and competition.”