This Might Be the Week the FCC Stands Up for Net Neutrality

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler testifying before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee in March 2014.

Photo by Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

The Federal Communications Commission has been mulling net neutrality and the question of whether to classify broadband as a utility for awhile. The agency has debated, discussed, and generally stroked its collective beard. And now, finally, reports are coming in that it will announce regulations later this week.

The decision to reclassify broadband as a telecom utility under Title II of the Communications Act—rather than an information service—has received vocal support from President Obama over the past few months. The move would allows the FCC to police inequities in broadband delivery like fast lanes and to ensure that content isn’t blocked or slowed by Internet service providers. The announcement could include a proposal to bring wireless data and other Internet infrastructure under Title II in addition to broadband.

The New York Times reports that, though Title II can allow for government involvement in things like utility pricing, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wants to minimize this type of industry meddling. Indeed, the agency will probably offer some concessions to the telecom lobby, which opposes reclassification

Concerns persist, though, about government overreach. Even if Wheeler says the FCC will not enforce all parts of Title II, a future iteration of the agency could act differently. David Farber, an early Internet developer who is a former chief technologist of the FCC, told the Times, “My fear is that regulating the Internet like a telecommunications service potentially opens a Pandora’s box.”

But the movement to protect net neutrality has become difficult to ignore. In November Obama said that:

We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why today, I am asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality.

So what protracted regulatory debate will be left to occupy us? Don’t worry, the FAA drone debate has plenty of years left.