Excerpt from mercurynews.com

The federal government’s top communications regulator on Wednesday called for strong new rules to bar Internet and wireless providers from blocking, slowing or discriminating against consumers’ access to particular websites and services, setting up a long-anticipated showdown over how — and how much — government ought to manage Internet access. 

Under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal, AT&T couldn’t block users from accessing Netflix or slow down YouTube’s Internet streams. Nor could it give preferential treatment to calls made with over those made with Vonage.

Wheeler said the new rules are intended to “preserve the Internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression.”

FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2014 file photo, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks during news conference in Washington.

FILE – In this Oct. 8, 2014 file photo, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks during news conference in Washington. (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

 

“The Internet must be fast, fair and open,” Wheeler said in an op-ed for Wired.com. “That is the message I’ve heard from consumers and innovators across this nation.”

The proposal, which Wheeler said he will circulate to his fellow commissioners this week and which would be voted on Feb. 26, represents the latest effort by the FCC to guarantee so-called “net neutrality” after two prior efforts were overturned by a federal appeals court. Unlike those efforts, the FCC has grounded the new rules in its authority under Title II of the Communications Act, which gives it the ability to regulate “ carriers” such as traditional telephone and telegraph providers.

Anticipating a backlash from industry and anti-regulatory Republicans in Congress, Wheeler noted that the Internet came into being in part thanks to previous rules set by the FCC and that the wireless industry has thrived despite having similar rules in place.

Wheeler had telegraphed the new approach to regulating Internet providers earlier this month in an appearance at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But the move represents a sharp turnabout for both him and the agency. Under the administration in the early 2000s the FCC decided to stop applying common carrier regulations to broadband access. And while the agency had long net neutrality rules, it previously resisted basing them on its authority over common carriers.

 
 

Consumers, Internet companies and even President Obama had urged the FCC to rethink its approach, and the two other Democrats on the five-member commission are expected to support Wheeler’s move. But Republicans in Congress have been working to head off the FCC with their own net neutrality proposal. Regardless of how that turns out, another court challenge is all but inevitable.

On Wednesday, consumer advocates and Internet companies praised Wheeler for listening to their call to reclassify Internet access as a common carrier service, much like a utility is treated as a common asset, although they hadn’t yet seen the proposal and warned that the rules could change between now and when the agency votes on them in three weeks.

“Title II is exactly the right law for the FCC to be using for net neutrality,” said Matt Wood, a policy director at Free Press, a consumer advocacy group. “Frankly, it’s we and millions of others been calling for now for more than decade.”

By contrast, broadband companies, anti-regulatory groups and some technology advocates decried the proposal, accusing the FCC of overreaching its authority and warning that the new regulations would discourage investment in broadband.

Wheeler’s move to reclassify broadband “is an unjustified, overblown response to what has in actuality been a by-and-large hypothetical concern” about blocking or throttling access to websites and services, said Doug Brake, a telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a public policy think tank.

Like previous net neutrality rules, the new regulations would bar Internet service providers from blocking or slowing down access to sites or services. It would also ban them from creating “fast lanes” for their own sites and services or for partners that paid extra to have their traffic speeded up.

For the first time, though, the new rules would fully apply to both landline Internet providers and wireless carriers. Past net neutrality rules gave more leeway to wireless Internet providers than wired ones. But in an email describing the new rules, the FCC noted that some 55 percent of Internet traffic now travels over the cellular carriers’ networks.

Internet companies were glad to see wireless access included in the new rules. “There is only one Internet, and users expect that they be able to access an uncensored Internet regardless of how they connect,” Michael Beckerman, CEO of the Internet Association, an industry lobbying group that includes companies such as Google, Netflix and eBay, said in a statement.

But the CTIA, the wireless industry trade group, argued that Congress hasn’t given the FCC the authority to regulate wireless broadband access as a common carrier service.

“We are concerned that the FCC’s proposed approach could jeopardize our world leading mobile broadband market and result in significant uncertainty for years to come,” Meredith Attwell Baker, the group’s CEO, said in a statement.

The new rules would also give the FCC the power to oversee interconnection agreements between website operators and Internet providers. As big Web service providers such as Google have started to account for larger and larger portions of total Internet traffic, Internet providers have forced those companies to for upgrading their connections to the Internet companies’ networks.

The deals came under scrutiny — and were brought into the net neutrality deliberations — after Netflix CEO Reed Hastings complained last year that Internet providers including Comcast were intentionally throttling customers’ access to its videos in an effort to force Netflix to pay to upgrade its connections to their networks. Netflix ended up succumbing to those demands — after which, its customers immediately saw their service improve.

“If such an oversight process had been in place last year, we certainly would’ve used it,” company spokeswoman Anne Marie Squeo said in a statement.

Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285. Follow him at Twitter.com/troywolv.
Non-neutral reactions

The new net neutrality rules that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler laid out in an op-ed Wednesday drew widespread reactions from companies, advocacy groups and think tanks.In praise of Wheeler and the move:
“The FCC is poised to take decisive action that will ensure consumers get the Internet access they pay for without (Internet Service Providers) restricting, influencing or meddling with their choices.” — Anne Marie Squeo, Netflix spokeswoman


“There is arguably no more important task for the FCC than safeguarding the open architecture of the Internet. … Net neutrality rules are vital to protect the freedom of expression and the freedom to innovate that are at the heart of Twitter and have been the hallmarks of the Internet boom.” — Colin Crowell, vice president of global public policy at Twitter

“Internet companies are pleased to hear that Chairman Wheeler intends to enact strong, enforceable, and legally sustainable net neutrality rules that include bright-line rules. … The details and implementation of the proposal matter, and we look forward to seeing the text of the order to ensure that a free and open Internet is fully protected.” — Michael Beckerman, CEO of the Internet Alliance, a lobbying group that represents Google, Facebook, Netflix, eBay and other Web companies

“The battle’s far from over, but this is a victory for consumers, for sure. … This would provide the strong consumer protections we need to keep companies like Comcast and Verizon from becoming all-powerful gatekeepers of the Internet.” — Ellen Bloom, senior director of federal policy for Consumers Union, the consumer advocacy division of Consumer Reports

“This is a banner day as years of grass-roots organizing are historic public interest dividends. Congratulations to Chairman Wheeler and his supportive colleagues for hearing what millions have said: Only the strongest Open Internet rules will protect competition and free expression online.” — Michael Copps, former FCC commissioner and special adviser to Common Cause, a consumer advocacy group

In opposition to the proposal:
“This is discouraging news for all manufacturers that depend on a robust Internet to run their shopfloors and deliver superior products. … This regulation will result in a disincentive to invest in our broadband infrastructure which will chill innovation in the manufacturing sector.” — Jay Timmons, CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers

“We continue to believe that a ground exists that will allow us to safeguard the open Internet without risk to needed investment and years of legal uncertainty. …. Any FCC action taken on a partisan vote can be undone by a future commission in similar fashion, or may be declared invalid by the courts. The best way to ensure that open Internet protections, investment and innovation endure is for people of good faith to come together on a bipartisan basis for that purpose.” — Jim Cicconi, senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs at AT&T

“This is an unprecedented power grab by a formerly independent agency that has become captive to presidential prerogative. … Congress should restore the constitutional balance of power and reassert its over the FCC and our communications laws.” — Fred Campbell, director of the Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology, an anti-regulatory lobbying group

“We are concerned that the FCC’s proposed approach could jeopardize our world leading mobile broadband market and result in significant uncertainty for years to come. … The mobile innovation and investment — $120 billion since 2010 alone — that American consumers on will be placed at risk by the FCC applying intrusive regulatory restrictions on mobile broadband for the first time.” — Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO of CTIA, the wireless industry’s trade group

“Tom Wheeler just shot himself in the foot. He just admitted that what the FCC is doing is effectively rewriting the law to suit its political agenda. … Wheeler’s statement only affirms that Congress alone can resolve the decade-long fight over net neutrality.” — Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom, an anti-regulatory think tank

“Heavily regulating the Internet … is unnecessary because all participants in the Internet ecosystem support an open Internet, and the FCC can address any harmful behavior without taking this radical step. … It is counterproductive because heavy regulation of the Internet will create uncertainty and chill investment among the many players — not just Internet service providers — that now will need to consider FCC rules before launching new services.” — 
Michael Glover, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for public policy and government affairs at Verizon