FCC Unveils 'Net Neutrality' Rules, Opening Floor to Public Comment

     (CN) - The Federal Communications Commission formally proposed new "net neutrality" rules Thursday that follow up on its plans to let Internet service providers make deals that give certain companies a "fast lane" to consumers' computers.
     An appeal by Verizon help bring about this reality, leading the D.C. Circuit in January to find that the FCC lacks the authority to regulate broadband internet companies because the agency had not classified broadband providers as "common carriers" like a phone company or other utility, subject to telecommunications regulations. Instead, they were called "information services."
     The FCC announced last month that, in line with the January decision, it would propose to allow companies to pay Internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon for special, faster lanes to send video and other content to their customers.
     Public outcry accused the FCC of abandoning its commitment to net neutrality, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler agreed to consider revising proposed rules.
     The FCC launched the rulemaking Thursday and requested public comment about applying Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and Title II of the Communications Act.
     "While the notice reflects a tentative conclusion that Section 706 presents the quickest and most resilient path forward per the court's guidance, it also makes clear that Title II remains a viable alternative and asks specifically which approach is better," the fact sheet states. "In addition, the proposal asks whether paid prioritization arrangements, or 'fast lanes,' can be banned outright."
     Verizon announced that it was reviewing the proposal and emphasized its commitment to innovation and "an open Internet."
     The statement echoed a letter that the telecom sent the FCC on Wednesday.
     "As the commission considers facts rather than overheated rhetoric, it will see that the open Internet is not under attack," Verizon's deputy general counsel Michael Glover wrote. "Instead consumers are benefitting from tremendous innovation and investment that gives them more and better choices every day. A light-touch approach that preserves flexibility and encourages continued innovation, experimentation, and investment throughout the Internet ecosystem will continue to serve the interests of consumers and preserve and protect the open Internet while also allowing experimentation and innovation that will provide consumers with still further options and the benefits they can deliver."
     The six-page letter urged the agency not to reclassify broadband providers as "common carriers" and subject them to "rotary telephone-era utility regulation."
     "In contrast to an approach that encourages innovation and investment in all parts of the Internet ecosystem, some now propose that the Commission 'reclassify' Internet access service and apply 1930's utility regulation to these services," Glover wrote. "Similarly, others, including Mozilla, would conjure up new 'transport' services out of Internet access services and subject this newly discovered 'service' to Title II utility-style regulation, thus having the same effect. Any such approach is unnecessary to protect the openness of the Internet and would be harmful and counterproductive to the commission's goals."
     Glover instead pointed to the "stunning success" of the FCC's current model, which Verizon claims has spurred innovation and investment, as opposed to "a central-planning model of utility regulation with the opposite effects."
     He also warned that reclassifying Verizon and other broadband companies would trigger protracted litigation, and provide a dangerous example for repressive regimes who have sought more control over the Internet.