The agency's tentative agenda for its Dec. 11 meeting, released this afternoon, doesn't include a vote on open Internet rules.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler initially said that he hoped to issue new open Internet rules by the end of the year. But last week, after President Barack Obama publicly urged the FCC to reclassify broadband as a utility service, Wheeler indicated the agency would need additional time to consider the legal questions posed by reclassifying broadband.
“The more deeply we examined the issues around the various legal options, the more it has become plain that there is more work to do,” Wheeler said last week in a statement.
That stance appears to mark a setback for net neutrality advocates, who are pressing the FCC to forge ahead with rules this year, while momentum seems to favor treating broadband as a utility.
"The FCC should have all of the information and motivation it needs to make the right decision and protect Internet users by reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers,” Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said Thursday in a statement.
The FCC has struggled for years to craft neutrality rules that will hold up in court. In 2005, the agency issued open Internet principles, which said that consumers were entitled to access the content and applications of their choice.
Several years later, the agency sanctioned Comcast for violating those principles by throttling peer-to-peer traffic. Comcast challenged that move, and an appellate court vacated the FCC's ruling on the ground that principles -- unlike regulations -- aren't enforceable.
The agency tried again to enact neutrality rules in 2010, when it passed regulations that prohibited wireline providers from blocking, degrading or unreasonably discriminating against content, services and apps. Those regulations essentially subjected Internet service providers to the same kinds of common-carrier rules that require telephone companies to put through all calls.
But earlier this year, an appellate court ruled that the FCC lacked authority to impose common-carrier regulations on ISPs, given that broadband is classified as an “information” service, as opposed to a “telecommunications” service.
Given the prior court history, advocates say that the FCC must reclassify broadband as an information service in order to pass enforceable rules.
Wheeler, however, hasn't so far shown an inclination to proceed that way. Earlier this year, he proposed issuing new regulations without first recategorizing broadband. Those rules -- which proved highly controversial -- would have allowed ISPs to charge companies higher rates for speedy delivery of their material.
Almost 4 million people commented on that proposal, with many of them voicing opposition to Wheeler's plan.
The FCC can still revise its agenda until Dec. 4. But if the agency doesn't vote on net neutrality at its meeting next month, the next opportunity won't be until Jan. 29, 2015.