Next Steps on Net Neutrality

By Elizabeth Holland

The time has come for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to get down to business on new net neutrality rules. Last week, the agency announced that it had received over 3.7 million comments and reply comments on its now-closed notice of proposed rulemaking on Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. Chairman Tom Wheeler made the rounds at hearings on Capitol Hill and hosted 12 hours of discussions in the Open Internet Roundtables.

In our July comments to the FCC, AALL urged the agency to establish a firm foundation for net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband Internet access as a Title II telecommunications service; and in a blog post yesterday, Wireline Bureau Chief Julie Veach wrote that agency is seriously considering proposals that rely, at least partially, on Title II. Veach highlighted comments from AOL, Mozilla, the Center for Democracy & Technology, and Professor Tim Wu that recommended using Title II in combination with other legal theories to protect the principle of net neutrality. Wheeler is, she wrote, looking at a “rainbow of policy and legal proposals” rather than being confined to “monochromatic” options.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have gotten on board for stricter regulations. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called for the commission to designate broadband Internet service as a utility, while Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is using his committee to explore ways to strengthen the proposed rules. Chairman Leahy also authored the bicameral Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act (H.R. 4880, S. 2476) that would require the FCC to ban paid prioritization deals. Oppositely, Senate Republican leaders have taken aim at the FCC for what they see as burdensome government regulation. The Federal Trade Commission also says it would lose its ability to take action against “deceptive and unfair” behavior by broadband providers if the FCC decides to pursue Title II reclassification.

Chairman Wheeler has said that he hopes the FCC will approve a proposal before the end of 2014. With any action unlikely before Election Day, the commission has a few more months to consider comments, meet with stakeholders, and test the waters on Title II before scheduling a final vote.

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