Commentary

FCC Chair To Propose Reclassifying Broadband

Looks like the Federal Communications Commission is going to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service after all.

Tomorrow, Chairman Julius Genachowski intends to put forward a plan to categorize broadband transmission service as a telecommunications service, subject to Title II of the Telecommunications Act. Currently the FCC considers broadband an information service, subject to Title I.

"The Chairman will outline a 'third way' approach between a weak Title I and a needlessly burdensome Title II approach," says a senior FCC official.

News of the potential change comes the same day that two two key lawmakers urged the FCC to consider reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service. "In the near term, we want the agency to use all of its existing authority to protect consumers and pursue the broad objectives of the National Broadband Plan," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said today in a letter to Genachowski. They add that the FCC should consider "all viable options," including "a change in classification, provided that doing so entails a light regulatory touch, with appropriate use of forbearance authority."

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Their letter was in response to a recent appellate decision vacating the FCC's decision to sanction Comcast for violating neutrality principles by throttling peer-to-peer traffic. The court case ruled that the FCC lacked authority to enforce neutrality principles because broadband is an "information" service, not generally subject to the type of regulation as telecommunications services.

That decision means that the FCC likely can't go ahead with plans to enact neutrality rules unless it first categorizes broadband as a telecommunications service. What's more, the ruling also appears to mean that the FCC can't proceed with key elements of its broadband plan -- including provisions as simple as requiring Internet service providers to accurately disclose speeds and billing rates to consumers -- without a reclassification.

Broadband advocacy groups like Free Press and Public Knowledge, which have been urging the FCC to reclassify broadband, were heartened by today's news. "This is a welcome announcement," Public Knowledge president Gigi Sohn said in a statement. "We have been saying for months that the FCC should consider a Title II solution to the problem of how to best protect consumers and expand broadband access and adoption in the U.S. since the Comcast case was decided."

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