The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will move to reclassify broadband transmission as a regulated, common-carrier service, but exempt many broadband services from new regulations in an effort to find a middle ground between no oversight and heavy-handed new authority, the agency's chairman said Thursday.
The FCC's move to reclassify broadband as a common-carrier service regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, announced late Wednesday, is necessary after a U.S. appeals court ruled last month that the agency does not have the authority to enforce informal network neutrality rules in a case involving Comcast's throttling of peer-to-peer traffic, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday.
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The agency will also forbear from most common-carrier types of regulations for broadband, Genachowski said.
The Comcast decision raises questions about the commission's ability to pass net neutrality rules prohibiting broadband providers from selectively blocking Web content and from implementing parts of the agency's national broadband plan, including a plan to revamp a telephone service subsidy to broadband deployment, Genachowski said in a statement.
"The goal is to restore the broadly supported status quo consensus that existed prior to the court decision on the FCC's role with respect to broadband Internet service," Genachowski said.
The Comcast decision, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, "does cast serious doubt" on the FCC's exercise of authority over broadband service, Genachowski said. The FCC does not want to face a court battle every time it tries to assert indirect, so-called ancillary, authority over broadband service, as it has it recent years, but it also does not want to give itself heavy regulatory powers over broadband, he said.
Genachowski said he has "serious reservations" about both of those approaches.
Claiming full Title II authority over broadband would "subject the providers of broadband communications services to extensive regulations ill-suited to broadband," he said.
Genachowski criticized both "extreme" alternatives available to the commission -- taking no action, or claiming full common-carrier regulatory authority. "Heavy-handed prescriptive regulation can chill investment and innovation, and a do-nothing approach can leave consumers unprotected and competition unpromoted, which itself would ultimately lead to reduced investment and innovation," he said.
The FCC would presumably have to launch an extensive rulemaking proceeding to reclassify broadband as a common-carrier service. An FCC spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an email asking for the agency's next steps.
Genachowski's announcement received mixed reviews.