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Groups Push Broadband Changes for Net Neutrality

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Wicker criticized even leaving Title II on the table as an option.

As the Federal Communications Commission begins an effort to rewrite its net neutrality rules, some public interest groups want the agency to take a greater step to reclassify the way it regulates broadband services.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last month struck down the agency’s 2010 rules that barred broadband providers from blocking lawful content or services and from unreasonably discriminating in the transmission of network traffic, such as slowing down access to some websites.

In response, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last week proposed drafting new regulations to fulfill those goals. The agency is looking to do so under the authority it has to promote deployment of broadband, which is classified as an “information service.”

Internet service providers have a lot of power as the gateway through which consumers access content online, said Chancellar Williams, associate policy director at Free Press. Consumers shouldn’t have their Netflix or other video service blocked or slowed down because those companies compete with a similar service provided by the customer’s Internet service company, he said.

Christopher Lewis, vice president of government affairs at Public Knowledge, said what’s made the Internet a “powerful tool” for commerce and innovation is the fact that people can access any website or service they want, allowing everyday people — from college students in dorm rooms to people who have lost their jobs — to become entrepreneurs at low startup costs.

That innovation may be slowed if new startups have to get permission from their Internet service providers to transmit a website or service to the consumer, said Lewis, who added, “We don’t need gatekeepers.”

Most net neutrality advocates, such as Public Knowledge, would prefer that Wheeler seek to reclassify broadband providers as “telecommunications services,” which would place them under the heavier regulation of Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (PL 104-104).

“Reclassification is the bulletproof option,” said Gabe Rottman, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington Legislative Office, who said there would be clear authority under existing law for the FCC to implement net neutrality regulations if broadband were reclassified.

Reclassification is the “firmest ground for the FCC to stand on, legally speaking,” said Todd O’Boyle, program director at Common Cause. Lewis said that that’s the way Free Press wanted the FCC to draft the rules back in 2010.

More than 80 groups have written to the FCC calling for reclassification to ensure net neutrality, and several of those groups, including Free Press, have sent more than 1 million petitions to the FCC endorsing that approach.

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