A proposed plan to reclassify broadband access as a telecommunications service "will have an immediate and significant adverse economic impact on small broadband Internet providers," the American Cable Association is arguing in a new Federal Communications Commission filing.
The ACA, which represents almost 900 small and medium-sized independent operators, says that reclassification would subject its members "for the first time, to economic and behavioral regulation of their provision of broadband Internet service." The organization also argues that the FCC doesn't have the ability to reclassify broadband access without undertaking a potentially lengthy rulemaking procedure.
The ACA's filed comments, which summarized conversations with the agency, were submitted in response to a proposal of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to reclassify broadband access as a Title II telecommunications service. Doing so would require broadband providers to follow some of the same common carrier rules that apply to telephone service providers. The move is seen as a first step toward crafting neutrality rules that would prohibit broadband providers from degrading or prioritizing traffic.
Genachowski made the proposal after a federal appellate court ruled that the FCC lacked authority to sanction Comcast for violating net neutrality principles by blocking peer-to-peer traffic. The court based its ruling on the fact that broadband was categorized as an information service, not a telecommunications service.
When the FCC voted 3-2 to pursue Genachowski's plan, the agency didn't open a formal rulemaking. Rather, the FCC sought comments via a notice of inquiry -- a procedure that would allow the FCC to vote on reclassification at any public meeting. A more formal rulemaking, however, could potentially result in months of delays.
The ACA says that the plan requires a formal rulemaking because it "constitutes a legislative ruling" that would subject Internet service providers to a host of new regulations.
Even without that a formal rulemaking, however, it's not clear whether the FCC intends to move forward in the near future. Several weeks ago, the agency sought additional comment about reclassification. In addition, the FCC is not planning to consider reclassification at its next meeting, scheduled for Thursday. Some industry observers have predicted that the FCC is unlikely to move forward until after the November mid-term elections.