The U.S. Federal Communications Commission will adopt net neutrality rules in early 2015, maybe as soon as February, several observers believe, but few people want to predict what those rules will look like.
The FCC is under pressure from President Barack Obama and a majority of the nearly 4 million people who have submitted comments to the agency to adopt strong rules prohibiting broadband providers from paid priority traffic arrangements.
It appears that the FCC will move forward with net neutrality rules in the first quarter of 2015, just over a year after an appeals court struck down a large portion of net neutrality rules the FCC passed in late 2010, said Chris Lewis, vice president of government affairs at Public Knowledge, a digital rights group in favor of strong rules.
"We don't want it to be 18 months or two years," given the interest of some broadband providers in paid traffic priority arrangements, he said. "We shouldn't be going any longer without net neutrality rules."
There's no consensus about the direction the FCC should take, however. Congressional Republicans, large broadband providers and a significant number of people filing comments with the agency have urged commissioners to back away from reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility, like Obama and other strong net neutrality advocates have called for.
Indeed, American Commitment, a conservative group with links to billionaire activists the Koch brothers, delivered more than 808,000 comments to the FCC along the theme of, "the Internet isn't broken and doesn't need to be fixed."
Based on earlier analysis of net neutrality comments, it appears that about two-thirds of people filing comments called for strong net neutrality rules.
So where does this leave the FCC? Chairman Tom Wheeler said recently he has no set timeline for moving forward on net neutrality rules. The FCC should act quickly, but also make sure any rules it creates will stand up to potential court challenges, he told reporters in early December.
Wheeler also said he's open to a range of options, although some recent reports have him leaning toward a hybrid regulatory approach that would split broadband into two distinct services, with broadband providers' relationship with Web content and services companies regulated as a common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
A hybrid approach seems mostly likely at this point, said Mike Wendy, director of free-market advocacy group MediaFreedom. The FCC seems poised to adopt rules that allow some "special arrangements" on traffic priority between providers and Web services, but that also provide "a backstop to protect against egregious behavior," he said by email.
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