Genachowkski plans to reclassify portions of broadband to assert FCC authority over Internet access

by Cecilia Kang, Washington Post

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission will announce Thursday a way for the agency to better assert its authority over broadband services. An FCC official said in a statement that its move will be somewhere between deregulation, the state of broadband services today, and a more regulatory approach.

Legal experts interpreted the statement to say that portions of broadband under a classification of telecommunications services are firmly under the FCC's authority, with a plan to strip many rules that apply to phone services from broadband.

The FCC official's statement wasn't explicit in saying the agency would shift broadband to a policy framework for common carriers. An agency representative declined to comment further.

Currently broadband is categorized as a Title I information service with weak FCC oversight. Some proponents of net neutrality have called for the FCC to reclassify those services as a Title II common carrier service, which is more clearly under the FCC's authority.

The official said Chairman Julius Genachowski will explain that the agency will take a " 'third way' appraoch between a weak Title I and a needlessly burdensome Title II approach."

And the only thing that would be affected would be the transmission service portion of broadband services -- in other words only the network operators (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon) that transmit the bits and bytes of data over the Web. The official said those services would have "broad upfront forbearance and meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory overreach."

That comments on forbearance indicated a move to Title II for broadband network providers, legal experts said.

The decision comes after a federal court decision created strong doubts that the FCC would be able to carry out portions of its national broadband plan and its proposed net neutrality rule, which would require all broadband providers to treat traffic equally on their networks.

“The Chairman will seek to restore the status quo as it existed prior to the court decision in order to fulfill the previously stated agenda of extending broadband to all Americans, protecting consumers, ensuring fair competition, and preserving a free and open Internet," the official said in a statement.

Proponents of reclassification said the move appeared to be a change of position after key lawmamkers and a grass-roots campaign called for Genachowski to reclassify broadband services.

And Susan Crawford, a law professor at the University of Michigan and former economic adviser to President Obama said the move is a good middle ground for the FCC.

“The FCC has clearly thought through all the implications of using its regulatory authority to provide for a a level playing field for innovation and job creation in America," Crawford said. "The FCC has reached the right result.”

article originally published at Washington Post.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey