FCC plans Net neutrality regulations for broadband

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will announce a "third way" to regulate broadband providers on Thursday, responding to a recent appeals court decision denying the agency regulatory authority.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
3 min read

Update May 6, 7:51 a.m. PT: The FCC has released its statement. More coverage to follow.

Net neutrality regulations are likely to be imposed on broadband providers after all.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski plans to announce details of the plan on Thursday, a senior agency official said. The purpose is to circumvent a recent federal appeals court ruling saying the FCC had no legal authority to punish Comcast for throttling some BitTorrent transfers.

Stung by the recent unanimous ruling, Genachowski will outline a "third way" to implement Net neutrality regulations, the official said in a statement.

"The chairman will seek to restore the status quo as it existed prior to the court decision in order to fulfill the previously stated agenda of extending broadband to all Americans, protecting consumers, ensuring fair competition, and preserving a free and open Internet," the official said.

The confirmation from the FCC comes only hours after two senior Democratic politicians sent a letter to Genachowski saying that imposing Net neutrality regulations on broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon is "essential." And Free Press, the liberal lobby group that's led the fight to hand the FCC more Internet regulatory authority, hastily convened a conference call to warn that Genachowski would be leaving President Obama's Net neutrality promises unfulfilled.

Free Press President Josh Silver called news of Genachowski's planned announcement "extremely welcome," but said his group would wait to see "whether the FCC has gone far enough to protect consumers with this new proposal."

Earlier in the week, The Washington Post reported that Genachowski "has indicated he wants to keep broadband services deregulated," a position favored by companies that say sweeping new regulations will deter investment and be overly burdensome.

The FCC official said Wednesday that Genachowski hopes to balance "a weak Title I and a needlessly burdensome Title II approach." Title I refers to lightly regulated information services; Title II refers to heavily regulated telecommunications services, such as legacy telephone networks.

The aim is to "apply to broadband transmission service only the small handful of Title II provisions that, prior to the Comcast decision, were widely believed to be within the commission's purview," the official said, adding that the plan would have "meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory overreach."

Reclassifying broadband services as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act would effectively import some of the rules from the analog telephone era and extend those to the modern Internet. The move could the FCC the authority to regulate prices and competitive access under what's known as common carrier rules on these networks. It also would not require Congress to enact a new law.

Reclassification, however, is bitterly opposed by telecommunications companies, who predict it will harm consumers, hinder investment, and cost jobs. Net neutrality laws could endanger 65,000 jobs by 2011, with the total economy-wide impact growing to 1.5 million jobs affected by 2020 because of reduced revenue growth in the broadband sector, according to a recent report (PDF) sponsored by Mobile Future, which counts AT&T as a member. AT&T has lobbied against Net neutrality laws.

Also on Wednesday, FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican appointee, sent Congress a four-page letter summarizing the history of the FCC's Internet regulation. McDowell cited, for instance, a Clinton administration-era FCC decision concluding that regulating Internet access providers would lead to "negative policy consequences."

CNET's Declan McCullagh and Marguerite Reardon contributed to this report.