It’s a busy time at the Federal Communications Commission. Not only is the commission working to fill out its ranks, it’s negotiating the delicate task of setting rules for and auctioning spectrum, reviewing industry M&A proposals, trying to figure out how best to guide the industry in its migration to newer technologies like IP, pushing to close the digital divide between rural and urban/suburban, and rich and poor, and modernizing E-rate. Oh and, by the way, it also continues to grapple with the complex issue frequently referred to as net neutrality – a topic about which industry debate never ends.
The FCC (News - Alert) already has received millions of comments to its Sec. 706-based proposal. It’s held a variety of forums on hybrid and Title II proposals. And, although the official deadline has passed for comments, the commission is still receiving input via ex parte meetings and written filings related to the Open Internet. So the FCC is reportedly not planning on issuing a formal public notice seeking additional comments on the proposed hybrid variations on new Open Internet rules that have been suggested, according to a story on the Broadcasting & Cable website. Saying the FCC will likely not formally invite additional input because it already has ample data to review and to issue another call for comment would only cause potential delay, the B&C piece attributes the information both to Politico and to what B&C calls “a source familiar with the FCC’s plans” who spoke with the media outlet on background.
Net neutrality (News - Alert) moved back into the spotlight recently when President Obama laid out his plan for what he called a free and open Internet, an issue about which he has been interested since his presidential campaign. Obama clearly is not a fan of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s (News - Alert) initial proposal, which suggested ISPs could sell faster service to interested content and over-the-top providers.
“The FCC is an independent agency, and ultimately this decision is theirs alone,” Obama said. “I believe the FCC should create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online. The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe.”
President Obama is urging the FCC to adopt rules that prevent blocking (meaning ISPs will allow subscribers to access any legal content on the Internet), paid prioritization (meaning no service should be stuck in a slow lane because it doesn’t pay a fee), and throttling (meaning ISPs shouldn’t intentionally speed or slow any content or service), and that allow for increase transparency between consumers and ISPs.
In a Nov. 10 statement responding to Obama’s suggestion, Wheeler commented: “The President’s statement is an important and welcome addition to the record of the Open Internet proceeding. Like the President, I believe that the Internet must remain an open platform for free expression, innovation, and economic growth. We both oppose Internet face lanes.”
Wheeler in his statement also noted that a federal court in January struck down rules preventing ISPs from blocking and discriminating against online content. That court action spurred the FCC to seek comment on how to reinstate those rules to protect consumers and “innovators online”. So, starting in May, the FCC sought comment on how it might use Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to do that.
More recently, however, Wheeler said it has become clear that “there is more work to do,” so the FCC began exploring what are termed reclassification and hybrid approaches related to Title II. The reclassification debate has to do with whether broadband companies should be considered providers of telecommunications services or information services. As Gigaom notes in a July posting, the categorization of telecommunications service triggers a series of obligations under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.Word is that new Open Internet rules could be ready for a vote in the first quarter.