Those in favor of reclassification argue that the FCC must take that step in order to impose legally enforceable net neutrality regulations that would require broadband companies to treat all traffic equally.
Broadband providers don't like this idea. They want broadband to remain classified as an “information” service, which is regulated under Title I of the Telecommunications Act. Telecommunications services are governed by Title II, which provides for the kinds of common-carrier rules that require telephone companies to put through all traffic.
Today, the U.S. Telecom Association -- a trade group for Internet service providers -- argued in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler that treating broadband like a utility “will necessarily put investment and innovation at risk, to the detriment of consumers, businesses and U.S. leadership.”
The organization adds that its analysis of Cisco's annual Visual Networking Index shows that U.S. Internet usage has exploded in recent years.
“Over the last five years ... consumer business usage of the Internet has tripled on a per user basis,” the group says. “Bigger pipes and compelling content and applications are driving more consumers to the Internet in a virtuous cycle fueled by massive investments in broadband infrastructure.”
The group goes on to argue that the Internet has been classified as an information service -- and not a Title II service -- during the recent growth spurt.
“Proponents of extreme measures, such as Title II reclassification of broadband, have not provided evidence to indicate that investment and traffic growth would be better under Title II, or that the entire sector -- edge, content, and broadband -- could be any more vibrant under Title II than it has been under the current longstanding Title I regime,” the organization says.
But the trade group omits at least one important point from its analysis: Until this January, broadband providers were required to follow the FCC's 2010 net neutrality rules. Those regulations prohibited wireline ISPs from blocking traffic, and appeared to also prohibit them from charging companies higher fees for faster delivery.
Those former neutrality regulations were invalidated in January by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the regulations wrongly subjected ISPs to common-carrier rules. That court said the FCC could only impose common-carrier requirements on companies that were regulated as utilities; that ruling triggered the push this year to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service.
But those old rules were in effect from 2011 through this January -- which means that much of the remarkable recent growth that's occurred took place in an environment where regulations prohibited discrimination.ISPs might well have some valid arguments against reclassification. But the fact that usage has grown in the last five years isn't one of them.