FCC Delays Broadband Reclassification Decision


The Federal Communications Commission will not consider a controversial plan to reclassify broadband access as a Title II telecommunications service at its public meeting this month, according to an agenda released on Thursday afternoon.

The reclassification proposal, Chairman Julius Genachowski's so-called "third way" approach to broadband regulation, would have subjected broadband providers to some of the same common carrier rules that telephone providers follow. Genachowski put the idea forward in May, shortly after a federal appellate court ruled that the FCC lacks authority to enforce net neutrality rules because the agency currently classifies broadband as a Title I information service.

Neutrality advocates generally said they supported the proposal, while telecoms and cable companies largely said that reclassification wasn't necessary and would deter investment in broadband.

Some advocates recently predicted that the issue had become so politically charged that the FCC likely would not take up the proposed reclassification proposal until after the mid-term elections in November. Earlier this week, the FCC tipped its hand that it would put off a vote on the third way by seeking additional comments on whether it should apply neutrality principles to wireless carriers and whether it should allow companies to strike deals for prioritized delivery of specialized services.

While the FCC theoretically could have still proceeded with reclassification -- and advocates like Free Press and Public Knowledge urged it to do so -- that move seemed less feasible once the FCC signaled that it was seeking additional public comments on neutrality questions.

Although the the FCC is delaying moving forward on neutrality, the agency is moving forward with a separate broadband initiative -- using the white spaces spectrum for wireless computing. The agenda includes a vote to finalize rules for unlicensed wireless devices on the spectrum recently vacated by TV broadcasters.

Advocacy group Public Knowledge cheered that announcement. "Today's proposals represent real, concrete steps in fulfilling the promise of the National Broadband Plan," Public Knowledge legal director Harold Feld said in a statement. "Voting final rules for the use of the broadcast white spaces will make much needed spectrum available for broadband."

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