The Federal Communications Commission is getting set to classify broadband as a Title II or communications service, according to news reports. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is expected to circulate a draft of the reclassification order within the commission and to release a fact sheet this week. The order is scheduled for a vote later this month, reports said.
Why Reclassify Broadband?
Broadband for years has been considered an information service, subjecting it to less regulation than traditional communications services such as voice. But when an appeals court overturned FCC Net Neutrality rules a year ago, the court’s rationale was that the FCC didn’t have authority to impose those rules on an information service, but would likely have authority to do so if broadband were a communications service.
Since then Net Neutrality champions, including consumer groups and some Democratic legislators, have pushed for broadband reclassification. More recently President Obama added his support for that move.
Obama’s petition seemed to be the factor that finally persuaded Wheeler to support reclassification – a move Wheeler previously hoped to avoid. Two of the other four commissioners are Democrats who have been pro-Net Neutrality and who also may be willing to reclassify broadband in order to achieve that goal. Their support would enable the order to pass.
Republicans, including the other two commissioners, and many communications service providers oppose reclassifying broadband, arguing that it would subject broadband to unnecessary regulation and hinder investment. Some Republican legislators have attempted to garner support for a bill that would put Net Neutrality rules in place, potentially eliminating the need for reclassification. But it appears unlikely that such a bill could be quickly passed – and President Obama could veto it.
Supporters of reclassification say the commission wouldn’t be required to impose every regulatory requirement on broadband traditionally associated with Title II. An example would be pricing tariffs, which communications service providers are required to file for Title II services such as voice.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, the draft order would give the FCC the authority to regulate deals on traffic exchange between broadband providers and big content companies. Until now the commission has left it to those companies to negotiate their own deals, but some content companies and service providers that provide connectivity for them have accused some broadband providers of Net Neutrality violations with regard to traffic exchange.
The previous Net Neutrality guidelines that the appeals court struck down did not touch on traffic exchange between content and broadband providers.