FCC Looks To Expand Authority Over Broadband
October 31, 2014 at 1:05 PM (PT)
FCC Chairman TOM WHEELER's plan for expanding the agency's authority over broadband service still won't satisfy proponents of "net neutrality" -- that all Internet traffic should be treated the same -- because it would still allow broadband providers to cut deals with content companies for special access to customers, according to a report in the WALL STREET JOURNAL.
The proposal would still require a vote of the full five-member commission, which is made up of three DEMOCRATS and two REPUBLICANS. And whatever the FCC tries almost certainly will be challenged in court by broadband providers, who would resist giving the agency more power over them.
WHEELER has insisted an open Internet is a goal in the proposal, along with barring providers from slowing down or blocking content to consumers.
Putting broadband under the FCC without explicitly banning providers’ deals would allow the agency to keep such authority as a last resort to block any arrangements that it views as anticompetitive.
Advocates of net neutrality say that the only way to achieve it is to classify the Internet as common carrier, or a public utility.
The broadband providers would like the FCC to keep them classified as information services, which makes the industry subject to far less regulation.
The new plan would separate broadband into a retail service, in which consumers would pay for Internet access; and a back-end one, in which they serve as the conduit for websites to distribute content. The FCC would then classify the latter as a common carrier, giving the agency the ability to police any deals between content companies and broadband providers.
A White House official said about the new plan: “The President has made it abundantly clear that any outcome must protect net neutrality and ban paid prioritization — and has called for all necessary steps to safeguard an open Internet.”
People familiar with the FCC say the agency remains skeptical of a flat ban on paid prioritization, noting that even common carriers are allowed to charge for certain specialized services. The proposal would leave the door open for broadband providers to offer specialized services for more money that require a large amount of bandwidth.
While the FCC still believes there should be room for such deals, its latest plan would shift the burden to the broadband providers to prove that the arrangements would be beneficial to consumers and equally available to any company that would like to participate. FCC officials believe reclassification would allow them to block such deals when they are anticompetitive, and have their rulings stand up in court.
Reclassification “could not withstand judicial review,” VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS Deputy General Counsel MICHAEL GLOVER insisted in a white paper submitted to the FCC earlier this week. Broadband providers say reclassification would give the FCC wide-ranging authority over everything from content to pricing and that it would curtail investment in upgrading broadband networks.