FCC Broadband Vote Draws Renewed Ire From Providers

Agency issues Notice of Inquiry for public comment on broadband reclassification plan, strategy to expand high-speed Internet access to millions.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 to move ahead on a legal strategy to reclassify broadband transmission from a loosely defined information service, its classification since 2002, to a telecommunications service, a reordering that would bring Internet service providers more clearly within the agency’s regulatory authority.

FCC commissioners approved a so-called Notice of Inquiry, a formal process to solicit public opinion on its controversial plan, specifically asking not only for comment on the reclassification of broadband but also on what chairman Julius Genachowski is calling a “Third Way”--leaving Internet content and applications unregulated while supervising only the transmission.

Broadband’s current classification as an information service allows it, for the most part, to remain untouched by FCC oversight.

The FCC began to reconsider its approach to broadband after a federal appeals court ruled in April (Comcast v FCC) that the agency could not compel providers to apply the same treatment to all Internet traffic traveling across their networks.

The agency subsequently crafted details for its wide-sweeping plan to extend broadband to some 100 million homes in the U.S. in the next decade, a key element of which involves treating it similar to telephone service.

“Our pro-investment, pro-innovation, pro-competition, pro-consumer policies remain unchanged and they remain essential for broadband in America,” said Genachowski.

“The purpose of the proceeding we launch today is to make sure those policies rest on a solid legal foundation by exploring and addressing the technical, legal questions the court decision raises,” he said.

“Let’s not pretend that the problems with the state of broadband in America don’t exist; let’s not pretend that the risk of excessive regulation is not real, or, at the other extreme, that the absence of basic protections for competition and consumers is acceptable,” Genachowski said.

Action draws negative response

Broadband providers responded quickly and negatively to the FCC’s move.

"Reclassifying high-speed broadband Internet service as a telecom service is a terrible idea,” said Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications, in a statement.

“The negative consequences for online users and the Internet ecosystem would be severe and have ramifications for decades. It is difficult to understand why the FCC continues to consider this option,” he said.

"We will continue to work with the Congress, the FCC and other interested parties to resolve these issues in a manner that encourages investment, innovation, jobs and the best possible online experience for users," Tauke said.

David L. Cohen, Comcast executive vice president told the Washington Post, “While we remain concerned about unjustified regulation, we are encouraged that the careful balancing the Chairman promised in his public statements since first announcing a 'Third Way' has led to a rational next step as all stakeholders continue to work together to keep the Internet ecosystem growing and open.”

Additional FCC Commissioners voting with Genachowski include Michael J. Copps and Mignon Clyburn. Meredith Attwell Baker and Robert M. McDowell issued opposing votes.

“It is my hope that instead of diverting precious resources towards creating new regulations, we focus on adopting policies that will help create abundance, competition and jobs,” said McDowell in his dissenting statement.

TAGS: Internet,FCC,broadband,Comcast,Net Neutrality

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