The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is expected to regulate the internet as a public utility, according to sources familiar with an agency proposal to be released this week.
The highly anticipated proposal to be released Thursday is expected to reclassify the internet under Title II of the Communications Act as a telecommunications service rather than an information service, lobbyists, FCC insiders and industry experts told the New York Times.
The net neutrality debate over how to best protect the open internet, where all traffic is treated equally, will climax in less than two weeks when the FCC votes on its final proposal Feb. 26.
The move would give the FCC clear legal authority to regulate the internet and keep internet service providers from charging for prioritized access. Now, all internet traffic is delivered to customers at the same rate, but without net neutrality, some services such as Netflix could pay ISPs like Comcast to make sure their traffic was put on a fast lane ahead of others.
FCC’s proposal will treat the internet as a utility to a certain degree. The New York Times reported Chairman Tom Wheeler’s approach would avoid heavy-handed regulatory measures such as price determination, shifting focus to treating wireless data service as a utility and imposing more rules on companies who run the internet’s infrastructure.
The FCC has come under a lot of pressure in the last year since a federal judge ruled it couldn’t legally impose net neutrality rules in early 2014. President Obama came out in staunch support of regulating the internet as a utility in November, outlining a plan to keep net neutrality intact that included banning fast and slow lanes.
Past FCC proposals garnered scathing criticism from the public and civil liberties advocates for giving broadband companies too much power and influence over internet access.
But the agency has seemingly reversed course. Aligning with Obama’s proposals, the Wheeler urged other FCC commissioners to block state legislation that would keep cities from building their own internet services.
“After looking carefully at petitions by two community broadband providers asking the FCC to preempt provisions of state laws preventing expansion of their very successful networks, I recommend approval by the commission so that these two forward-thinking cities can serve the many citizens clamoring for a better broadband future,” Wheeler said.
Comedian and political commentator John Oliver is probably very excited about this.