This story has been updated to include clarification that was provided during an afternoon media briefing with FCC officials.
The opening salvo in what could be the biggest war the wireless industry has ever seen was just launched by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Wheeler Wednesday said he will roll out a new Net Neutrality proposal later this week that will reclassify Internet service providers (ISPs) under Title II of the Communications Act.
Wheeler made the announcement in a post on Wired.com. He said that while he had originally hoped that openess could be assured through “commercial reasonableness” under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, he “became concerned that this relatively new concept might, down the road, be interpreted to mean what is reasonable for commercial interests, not consumers.”
As a result, Wheeler is proposing the FCC use its Title II authority, which it used to regulate legacy telephone providers, to implement and enforce open Internet protections.
Wheeler said his new rules will ban paid prioritization agreements, such as the one AT&T has arranged to give Netflix’s content prioritization over its fiber. The new rules would also outlaw the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services and will apply to wireless providers, Wheeler said.
“My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission,” Wheeler wrote.
Wheeler argues that his brand of Title II reclassification will be tailored to the 21st century and can be accomplished without hindering investment in the networks.
“For example, there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling,” Wheeler wrote. “Over the last 21 years, the wireless industry has invested almost $300 billion under similar rules, proving that modernized Title II regulation can encourage investment and competition.”
AT&T and Verizon has both come out strongly against Wheeler’s move towards Title II, which was put in motion by a call from President Obama urging the FCC to act.
Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam during a recent investor conference called Title II reclassification “silliness” and “a bad idea” with “a lot of unintended consequences,” noting that such a decision by the FCC would be the start of a long legal battle.
The FCC is holding a briefing on the matter later today. Wireless Week will continue to report on the details of Wheeler’s plan as they become available, as well as the reaction from the rest of the industry.
During an afternoon briefing with media, FCC senior officials, offered more details on the plan. According to comments made during the call, Chairman Wheeler’s new proposal will be distributed tomorrow. The new plan will apply forebearance on some of the main sticking points for carriers, inlcuding all utlity-style regulation and pricing oversight. The Commission also confirmed that ISPs would not be subjected to paying addition fees, such as the Universal Service Fee.
The officials said that the FCC will put under scrutiny particular cases of concern. For instance, programs like T-Mobile’s free streaming of music services, or AT&T sponsored data, would be looked at on a case-by-case basis to see whether they are detrement to consumers.
Filed Under: Industry regulations