FCC Ready to Reclassify Internet as ‘Phone Service’

Would bypass appellate court ruling that questioned commission’s legal authority

Federal Communications Commission chairman Julius Genachowski is ready to move forward on his quest down his controversial plan to reclassify internet connections as phone services.

Despite fierce opposition, the FCC on a 3-to-2 vote on Thursday opened an initial inquiry into questions about the reclassification. Following the inquiry’s completion, the FCC is expected to propose a formal change.

Since 2002 the FCC has considered the internet “an information service” rather than a phone service. Genachowski considers the reclassification necessary in the face of an appellate court decision earlier this year that ruled the FCC has no legal authority over an information service.

Without reclassification, the FCC would be unable to move forward on aggressive plans to implement net neutrality rules and provide higher broadband speeds to consumers. It also could tie the commission up in years of litigation over any actions it takes.

That reclassification approach, however, does not sit well with phone companies and internet service providers, who’ve waged an all-out battle against it.

And some Congressmen and senators — most but not all of them Republican — have also expressed fears that such an action by the FCC could hurt internet investment and damage the web’s growth as an important weapon in the growth of the American economy.

They have also proposed a rider to the FCC’s appropriation that would block the FCC from spending any money to implement the changes.

Their criticism of Genachowski has been sharp

 “If the FCC reclassified broadband without a directive from Congress, and without a thorough analysis of the facts and the potential consequences to investment, the legitimacy of the agency would be seriously compromised,” Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, ranking Republican of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in May.

On the other hand, Democratic House and Senate leaders who back net neutrality have urged Genachowski to move forward and have urged Congressional leaders to reject the calls to block the FCC from acting.

One letter Tuesday called the attempt to stop the FCC “inappropriate; it was signed by Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Tom Udall, D-N.M.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Another – sent Wednesday by Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.; Mike Doyle, D-Penn.; and Doris Matsui, D-Calif. — told Genachowski that moving forward is necessary “if Americans are to attain” a wide variety of benefits from faster internet.”

The Open Internet Coalition, whose members include Amazon and Google, also has endorsed the FCC’s action.

“Without fast, available, and open broadband, full participation in the global economy will remain unattainable,” Markham Erickson the group’s executive director, said in a statement.