FCC Chief to Reveal Plan for Taking Back Internet

It will be to neither reclassify the internet as a phone service nor to convince the court that it has authority over the web

The Federal Communications Commission is set to announce Thursday its plan to move forward with both net neutrality and new broadband upgrade goals, despite a court ruling questioning the agency’s authority over the internet.

And it will be to neither reclassify the internet as a phone service, as some have suggested, nor to convince the court that it has the proper authority.

Instead, Chairman Julius Genachowski will take a route somewhere in between, said a senior FCC official in a statement.

Genachowski, he said, 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.”

An appellate court panel recently overturned the FCC’s attempt to sanction Comcast for slowing BitTorrent downloads, questioning the agency’s legal authority to regulate the internet.

That left the agency with an agenda calling for it to step up to improve the country’s broadband and to push forward with net neutrality — but with some big legal decisions on how and even whether to proceed.

Among the choices: Try to prove the appellate court wrong, or reclassify internet connections as phone services, over which it already has authority.

The first move could create a long legal battle; the second would bring a big fight with telephone, cable and internet service providers.

Genachowski’s plan will be to reclassify internet services as phone services for extremely narrow purposes and with limits on the possibility those purposes could be expanded, while depending on its current authority for other regulation.  

“It would apply to broadband transmission service only the small handful of [telephone] provisions that, prior to the Comcast decision, were widely believed to be within the commission’s purview, and would have broad up-front forbearance and meaningful boundaries to guard against regulatory overreach,” the senior FCC official said.

Consumer groups were pleased at the decision to move forward with some reclassification.

“This is a welcome announcement," said Gigi B. Sohn, president and co-founder of Public Knowledge in a statement.