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FCC opts for light touch on broadband

Thu, 12/02/2010 - 7:30am
Brian Santo

The FCC published its long-gestating framework for the rules governing Internet services. The framework has gained initial support for relying on Title I rather than the more restrictive Title II regimen.

The key distinction is that the FCC will not reclassify broadband as a communications service (Title II), which would open the potential for making broadband subject to the same strict regulations that govern phone service.

While the key elements of the FCC's announcement focused on the rules governing broadband services, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski also said the FCC is accepting of the possibility of usage-based billing.

The cable industry found this comment notable. NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow said on the NCTA blog that cable may or may not move to metered billing, but he was encouraged that the FCC recognized the industry needed the flexibility to explore that possibility if it turned out to be necessary.

Genachowski enumerated the guiding principals of the FCC's approach. First, he said in written comments, "consumers and innovators have a right to know basic information about broadband service, like how networks are being managed.

"Second, consumers and innovators have a right to send and receive lawful Internet traffic. ... Thus, the proposed framework would prohibit the blocking of lawful content, apps, services and the connection of non-harmful devices to the network," he said.

"Third, consumers and innovators have a right to a level playing field. ... And so the proposed framework includes a bar on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic."

The FCC bought into the argument from wireless companies that wireless broadband needs to be treated differently, and so it will be even more lightly regulated, but it may yet become subject to the same rules as other broadband services.

"Under the framework," Genachowski wrote, "the FCC would closely monitor the development of the mobile broadband market and be prepared to step in to further address anti-competitive or anti-consumer conduct as appropriate."

Genachowski's fellow Democratic FCC commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn were generally supportive, though Copps' terse statement included the suggestion that more work needs to be done to ensure protections for consumers.

The staunchly anti-regulatory Republican contingent was obligatorily negative. Commissioner Robert M. McDowell sneered at the proposal as a mere "maneuver," while Margaret Attwell Baker called the whole process "a mistake."

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