If you’ve ever wondered whether superlatives can travel at 500 megabytes per second, wonder no more. The broadband and cable industries responded with swift ire Wednesday to the news that Chairman Tom Wheeler of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission supports reclassifying broadband service as a public utility, a move that could subject high-speed Internet and mobile providers to the toughest regulations they’ve ever faced.
Michael Powell, CEO and president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said the plan would bury the industry under layers of burdensome, outdated regulation.
“It will result in a backward-looking new regulatory regime, ill-suited for the dynamic Internet, with far-reaching and troubling consequences,” Powell said in a statement Wednesday. “We believe that such a significant expansion of the FCC’s authority is unnecessary and will only deliver further uncertainty instead of legally enforceable rules that everyone supports.”
In a joint statement, John Sununu and Harold Ford Jr., honorary co-chairs of Broadband for America, called the plan “an unprecedented expansion of FCC power.”
Writing in Wired magazine Wednesday, Wheeler said he will propose the FCC use its authority under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act to regulate Internet service providers as common carriers. He said such a move would authorize the agency to stop providers from prioritizing some types of content over others -- the cornerstone of net neutrality.
But Powell said that objective can be achieved without the “significant regulatory baggage” that comes with utilitylike regulation. The NCTA and many cable and telecommunications companies -- including AT&T Inc., the Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. -- have repeatedly said they are not opposed to light-touch rules that prohibit blocking or throttling legal content.
Wheeler’s full proposal has not yet been made public, but his op-ed marks the most detailed description yet of what it will likely include. The FCC’s previous net neutrality proposal was struck down after it was challenged in the courts, and Scott F. Belcher, CEO of the Telecommunications Industry Association, said that will likely happen this time around.
“We’re confident that, when this issue moves to Congress and the courts, utility-style government oversight will be rejected,” Belcher said in a statement. “Many policymakers share our understanding that the current light-handed regulatory approach has spurred tremendous private-sector investment in infrastructure and technology. This has led to new jobs and economic growth, and to a flourishing Internet that offers greater access, more choice and higher speeds.”
Free-speech advocates, content companies and many Internet firms support tougher regulations on Internet service providers. A number of vocal net neutrality advocates were quick to applaud Wheeler’s stance Wednesday.
Christopher Keyser, president of the Writers Guild of America, West, called the proposal a “victory” for all Americans. “Recognizing that the Internet should be regulated like the phone lines and that rules should be equally applied to wired and wireless Internet service means that the future of this democratic platform need not be put in the hands of a few powerful gatekeepers,” Keyser said.
Wheeler said he will circulate his proposed new rules to members of the FCC this week. The agency is set to vote on the proposal Feb. 26.