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U.S. FCC pressured to regulate broadband in net neutrality spat

Grant Gross | May 2, 2014
Net neutrality advocates call on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a regulated, common-carrier service.

In his speech Wednesday, Wheeler called his net neutrality proposal "tough and enforceable."

The FCC won't allow broadband providers to prioritize some traffic at the expense of other traffic, Wheeler said. "We will not allow some companies to force Internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service," he said.

Still, Free Press and other groups have renewed their push for reclassifying broadband after Wheeler announced his new plan. Reclassifying broadband is the "only thing to do ... to protect the public and safeguard the Internet's future," Craig Aaron, Free Press' president and CEO, wrote at the Huffington Post.

Free Press and Reddit users are organizing a protest for May 15, the day the FCC is scheduled to vote to open up Wheeler's proposal for public comments.

Reddit users should contact their lawmakers and the FCC and demand "that broadband be reclassified as a telecommunications service," wrote Reddit user aFortyDegreeDay. They should also ask Web sites to black out their home pages in support of net neutrality, similar to a Web blackout that helped kill two online copyright enforcement bills in January 2012, aFortyDegreeDay recommended.

In addition, a petition calling on the FCC to reclassify broadband on the WhiteHouse.gov's We the People site has more than 5,000 signatures since it went live Friday.

"We have benefited enormously from the egalitarian way in which the Internet treats information regardless of type or source, [and] some of the most successful companies in America owe their existence this feature," the petition says.

The petition incorrectly asserts, however, that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit gave the FCC a "specific instruction" to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers as a way ensure net neutrality.

The appeals court did point the FCC toward a section of the Telecommunications Act that would allow the agency to enforce net neutrality rules, but it wasn't the section that lays out common-carrier regulations. Instead, the appeals court pointed to a section that tasks the FCC with ensuring speedy broadband deployment.

Judge David Tatel's January opinion is inconclusive about reclassification, although he finds that the FCC cannot impose common-carrier regulations on broadband providers under the agency's own classification of broadband as a lightly regulated information service.

"We think it obvious that the Commission would violate the Communications Act were it to regulate broadband providers as common carriers," Tatel wrote. "Given the Commission's still-binding decision to classify broadband providers," any common-carrier rules would violate a section of the law saying telecom carriers can only be treated as common carriers when they provide telecom services.

But the court didn't prohibit the FCC from changing that classification decision, net neutrality advocates said.

 

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