FCC Chair Hints Net Neutrality Rules Will Treat Broadband as a Utility


Jamie Condliffe

Speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has strongly hinted that his new net neutrality rules will treat broadband Internet service providers as utilities.

Despite initially resisting the idea, it looks increasingly likely that Wheeler's net neutrality reforms could reclassify ISPs and regulate them under Title II of the Communications Act. That would protect consumers by treating the internet as an essential service—and it's something that Obama has laid out as vital in his own net neutrality plan.

Originally, Wheeler suggested that ISPs should be able to strike deals with content companies if they were "commercially reasonable." But he explained yesterday that "it became obvious [to the FCC] that 'commercially reasonable' could be interpreted as what is reasonable for the ISPs, not what's reasonable for consumers or innovators. And that's the wrong question and the wrong answer. Because the issue here is how do we make sure that consumers and innovators have access to open networks."

Instead, he explained, the best way to judge an ISP's beahvior is the "just and reasonable" standard under Title II. "We're going to propose rules that say that no blocking, no throttling, [no] paid prioritization, all that list of issues, and that there is a yardstick against which behavior should be measured," explained Wheeler. "And that yardstick is 'just and reasonable.'"

Of course, we have to wait until February 26th to find out exactly what the FCC's decision is on net neutrality. But right now, it looks like ISPs could be in for a disappointment—and that broadband could end up being treated like a utility. [LA Times]

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