FCC Considers Strategies For Broadband Regs

Staff at the Federal Communications Commission are considering a host of legal maneuvers that could empower the agency to enact open Internet rules, FCC Wireline Competition Bureau head Julie Veach said today in a blog post.



Veach said that many of the record-setting 3.7 million public comments about net neutrality “focused on potentially harmful effects of paid prioritization on innovation and free expression, among other values.”

The comments were submitted in response to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to allow paid prioritization -- which would empower broadband providers to charge content companies extra fees for speedy delivery of their material.

The fact that Veach called attention to the negative response to Wheeler's proposal is in itself notable -- especially because Veach didn't attempt to argue in favor of online fast lanes. On the contrary, Veach's entire post centered on the various ways the FCC could ban paid prioritization.

Veach went on to briefly outline some of the approaches under consideration. One avenue -- which many advocates are urging the FCC to take -- is to reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications” service. Doing so would allow the agency to treat ISPs like telephone companies, which have long been required to put through all phone calls.

Veach points out that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told Congress last week that the reclassification option was still “very much on the table.”

But she also referenced other strategies -- including ones outlined by Mozilla and by law professor Tim Wu (who coined the phrase net neutrality in 2003).

Mozilla's approach, as well as Wu's, calls for the FCC to reconceptualize broadband as two separate services. Wu terms those services call and response: Consumers “call” the content they want to access, while content companies “respond” to the call by transmitting data.

He suggested that the FCC could reclassify the “response” transmissions as a telecommunications service. “Such a conclusion,” Wu writes, would give “the Commission the ability to protect application service providers from anticompetitive carrier conduct.”

Mozilla made a similar proposal, but used different terminology. Mozilla suggested in a May filing that the FCC could divided broadband into two types of services -- “local” and “remote.” The local service is between  ISPs and their subscribers, who use broadband to download videos, music and other content. The “remote delivery” service refers to the connections between ISPs and the “edge providers” (like Netflix or YouTube) that send content to consumers.

Whether the FCC will move forward with any of these proposals isn't yet clear. For now, Veach says that Wheeler “is looking for a rainbow of policy and legal proposals, rather than being confined to ...  limited 'monochromatic' options.”

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