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FCC says net neutrality plan is on a 'firm legal foundation'

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 6, 2015
No new taxes or rate reviews for ISPs are planned.

Pro-net neutrality rally in 2014
Lori Erlendsson attends a pro-net neutrality Internet activist rally in Los Angeles in July 2014. Credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn via Computerworld

Lawsuits are widely expected that would attack the sweeping net neutrality reforms proposed Wednesday by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler.

A major concern of many wireless carriers and other Internet providers is that Wheeler's proposal would create a disincentive for future investment in services and infrastructure. Internet providers believe they would have to pass their proposals through a time-consuming and costly FCC review similar to a standard utility, effectively creating a disincentive.

The five-member commission is expected to vote on Wheeler's proposal on Feb. 26.

The FCC in a fact sheet posted today -- and via comments by senior commission officials during an afternoon briefing -- strongly defended Wheeler's proposed rules as resting on a "firm legal foundation built to withstand future challenges."

Not all Internet providers believe that reclassifying mobile and wired broadband as a common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 would lessen the incentive to invest, FCC officials argued. They cited Google, which operates Google Fiber for broadband Internet service, and Sprint, with about 50 million wireless customers; both filed comments with the agency saying they didn't see Title II as creating a drag on investments in networks.

In all, the FCC received about 4 million comments on its planned net neutrality reforms, the largest public outpouring it has ever received.

While FCC officials said they wouldn't be surprised to see the proposal taken to court, they also called it a straightforward approach that's less vulnerable to legal attack. What ISPs offer consumers is a service allowing them to use the Internet to access information around the globe, one in which packets of data are transmitted for a fee like a conventional telecommunications service that is already subject to Title II regulation, they said.

Wheeler, in a commentary posted on Wired, said that mobile voice providers have already been regulated under Title II provisions and have grown and have invested heavily in their businesses. "Fewer provisions will apply to ISPs than were applied to wireless carriers," the FCC said in its fact sheet.

While the mainstay of Wheeler's proposal would be to prevent blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of Internet content, the FCC noted that Internet providers will still be able to engage in "reasonable network management," but not network management practices for commercial purposes.

"For example, a provider can't cite reasonable network management to justify reneging on its promise to supply a customer with 'unlimited' data," the fact sheet states.


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