U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed reclassifying the Internet as a utility, a dramatic regulatory move that he said would ensure “net neutrality.”
In an op-ed posted Wednesday on Wired.com, Wheeler said that after more than a decade of debate, “the time to settle the net neutrality question has arrived,” declaring that his proposal “is rooted in long-standing regulatory principles, marketplace experience, and public input received over the last several months.”
The proposal, which will go before the commission on Feb. 28, would reclassify the Internet as a Title II telecommunications service, the classification given to phone companies. The FCC currently classifies the Internet as an “information service.”
“I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC,” Wheeler said. “These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services.”
“My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission,” he added.
A federal appeals court in January 2014 overturned the FCC’s previous set of net neutrality rules, faulting the agency for attempting to set utility-like regulation for the Internet without actually classifying broadband as a utility.
Public interest groups have urged the FCC to reclassify the Internet. “This is a banner day as years of grassroots organizing is paying historic public interest dividends,” Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and special adviser to Common Cause, told Variety.
But Wheeler’s proposal is likely to face legal challenges from Internet service providers. “Subjecting broadband to public utility regulation under Title II is unnecessary for assuring continued openness and would carry deeply harmful consequences,” Rick Boucher of the industry group Internet Innovation Alliance said in a news release.
Democrats have balked at net neutrality legislation proposed by Republicans in Congress, noting that it also would limit the FCC’s authority to respond to consumer complaints or take other types of action to shape the Internet’s future.
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