The U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) announced plans Friday to release and vote on a new proposal that could end a yearlong debate over how to best regulate the internet.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told agency commissioners that a new draft proposal for net neutrality rules aimed at regulating internet service providers (ISPs) would be ready after the start of the New Year, and voting would be scheduled for late February, the Washington Post reported.
It’s still unclear which way the FCC is leaning and whether it will consider rules that would allow broadband providers to speed up or slow customers’ internet access via side deals with Web services and websites such as Netflix. Since the agency’s initial proposal in May 2014, there has been heavy speculation over the FCC’s final decision on the net neutrality rules. The FCC encountered swift, enduring backlash from the public because the proposal allowed for internet fast and slow lanes that could have forced customers to pay more for access.
Recent rumors speculate the FCC is considering reclassifying the internet as a utility such as electricity to give the agency clear governing power but would still allow fast lanes.
President Obama recently pressured the FCC to uphold net neutrality and abolish fast lanes, emphasizing that everyone has the right to equal internet access. The White House released a plan in November calling for an outright ban on ISPs from blocking or throttling content. Paid prioritization, or fast and slow lane access, also would be forbidden so web services can be accessed without paying an extra fee.
At the heart of the net neutrality debate is how to classify and regulate the internet under existing legislation. A judge struck down the net neutrality rules in early 2014, ruling the agency couldn’t enforce the longstanding net neutrality rules because the Internet was considered an information service under the law. The FCC can only regulate telecommunications services. Classifying the internet as an utility would give the FCC more authority to impose strict regulations on ISP.
Broadband providers have been strongly lobbying against that proposal, arguing that customers should have to pay-to-play. AT&T said it wouldn’t invest any more money into infrastructure that would speed up internet access until the FCC finalized its net neutrality decision. The FCC formally questioned the telecom company as a result.