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Lawmakers to FCC: stop mulling net neutrality reclassification

Grant Gross | May 21, 2014
Republican legislators don't even want the U.S. Federal Communications Commission to think about reclassifying broadband as a utility -- a route the regulator could take in order to reinstate net neutrality rules.

While Wheeler's proposal doesn't ban outright paid priority business models, last week's notice asks whether it should, and Wheeler's FCC would consider most such arrangements to be unreasonable business practices, he said. Broadband subscribers should have access to all the bandwidth they pay for, he said.

"There is only one Internet," he said. "There is not a fast lane and a slow lane."

Subcommittee Democrats encouraged Wheeler to pass new net neutrality rules, but some appeared to be skeptical of reclassifying broadband as a utility. The FCC should prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking Web content, and paid priority plans represent a "fundamental departure from the Internet as we know it," said Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat.

But moving to Title II could make room for "heavy-handed regulation," Eshoo added. "I think that we need a light, but strengthful, touch in this," she said.

Representative Henry Waxman, another California Democrat, called on the FCC to use Section 706, the broadband deployment section of the Telecom Act, to pass net neutrality rules, but also rely on Title II common-carrier rules as a "backstop" to ban any paid prioritization of Web content by broadband providers.

"You don't have to settle for weak open Internet rules, if you exercise your full powers," Waxman said.

While the FCC notice asks when and if the agency should allow any paid prioritization, "this will create a lot of ambiguity and a lot of litigation," he said. "Bright lines would be much better for the market and for innovation."

But Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, suggested paid-for-priority plans would have some merit.

"What people are trying to do is [say], 'I want to pay a minimal price and get all this broadband, and I want to download everything from Netflix, and I don't want to pay if I download everything they rent,'" he said. "The broadband providers, who have spent billions and billions of dollars and who have networked this country ... may want to provide, based on volume of use, some kind of pricing system,"

Net neutrality rules wouldn't prevent broadband providers from charging subscribers higher prices for a faster connection, Wheeler said. "The concept of the open Internet is I have bought this broad pathway, and I have the right to use it unfettered," he said.

 

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