FCC advances broadband reclassification vision

The FCC's vote yesterday to open up a discussion on reclassifying broadband as a Title II common-carrier service is likely going to ignite a long battle between the telecom regulator and the cable and telecom industries.

When a court ruled against their challenge of Comcast's throttling of customer bandwidth, the FCC decided to take what it called a "third way" approach to regulating the broadband industry. This latest move is the first step the agency has taken to advance its net neutrality regulation ambitions for wireless and wireline networks.

During the open meeting, the FCC voted 3-2 to approve a notice of inquiry to accept public comment on whether and how to reclassify broadband service. The agency put three options on the table: stick with the current rule that broadband is an information service; apply Title II's rules to broadband; or classify broadband as a Title II service but "forbear" from a number of Title II's provisions. In addition, the FCC wants comments on other options. Comments for the inquiry are due on July 15, while reply comments are due by Aug. 12.

The FCC said in a statement that the loss of its Comcast court challenge "cast doubt on prior understandings about the FCC's ability to ensure fair competition and provide consumers with basic protections when they use today's broadband Internet services."

Inside the FCC, the decision was far from equal. While the FCC's three Democrats--Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn--voted in favor of the measure, the commission's two Republican members--Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell-Baker--voted against it.

Outside of the FCC, the decision was met with elation from competitive providers and scorn from the traditional telcos.

Competitive provider Integra Telecom, not surprisingly, was in favor of the move. "The proposed framework will preserve the Internet as an environment that promotes innovation and investment while protecting consumers' ability to access content according to their desires," CEO Dudley Slater said in a statement.

However, large telcos such as AT&T (NYSE: T) and Verizon (NYSE:VZ) have long argued that net neutrality will actually stunt broadband investment. A study issued by the Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute at New York Law School and Entropy Economics yesterday went so far as to say that the passage of net neutrality regulations will actually cause widespread job losses.

Tom Tauke, executive vice president for public affairs, policy and communications for Verizon, long an outspoken critic of net neutrality, said that the measure is "a terrible idea," arguing that the FCC was trying to make broadband fit into the "old telephone world."

For more:
- Broadband DSL Reports has this post
- Here's Fierce Wireless' coverage

Related articles:
Detour on the road to universal broadband
Net neutrality regulation could cost jobs, argues study
Service providers take positions as FCC begins deliberations on net neutrality rules
FCC broadband reclassification no slam dunk
FCC to discuss net neutrality at June 17 meeting
Clyburn shows support for Title II net neutrality