Earlier today, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote an op-ed in Wired that laid out his intention to propose a Title II reclassification of the ISPs (Internet Service Providers) as “common carriers”. Although the vote will still need to be passed in the FCC (and could be vetoed by Congress via legislation), the upcoming proposal has already been celebrated by net neutrality supporters as a major victory.
This reclassification would put the internet in the same bucket as basic public needs such as water and power, allowing the FCC to have access to more regulation of it. The primary purpose of reclassification would be to keep ISPs (Internet Service Providers) from doing things such as throttling bandwidth.
Here’s five things to know about Wheeler’s remarks and the upcoming net neutrality vote:
Nobody likes the behavior of Internet Service Providers, whether it’s AT&T or Comcast. They have a tight monopoly on the market, throttle bandwidth for services like Netflix that we love so much, and charge all too much for services. The first thing that the reclassification of ISPs as “common carriers” means is that the FCC will “ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services.” That means no fast lanes for the internet or discretion of content.
In his comments, Wheeler uses AT&T’s ban on non-AT&T hardware in the 1960s as example of how the FCC has saved the internet in the past. But who created AT&T in its current form? If you know the history of the telecom industry, you know that AT&T was not a natural, free market-created company, but instead a government-empowered entity that was practically handed its monopoly in the 1920s.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the unelected board of commissioners in the FCC are all formerly major players in the telecommunications industry, including Tom Wheeler, who was a former venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable/wireless industry.
One of the big revelations of Wheeler’s remarks was that the massively expanded mobile industry would also be included in the reclassification. That means wireless carriers like T-Mobile, Sprint, AT&T, and Verizon will all be reclassified as “common carriers”. Say goodbye to the bizarre offerings of wireless carriers such as T-Mobile’s “Music Freedom” or AT&T’s sponsored data. This will be the first time that the FCC will attempt to apply net neutrality rules to the wireless industry.
Unsurprisingly, most of the broadband and wireless carriers have been vehemently opposed to the reclassification of the internet as a Title II utility. As noted by The Verge, AT&T very recently called Title II reclassification as a “road to nowhere,” while T-Mobile has said that Title II will “stifle innovation”. All that to say that there is an enormous legal battle between these companies and the FCC looming on the horizon.
A lot of the details regarding the reclassification are still unknown. There are a lot of regulations under the Title II class that won’t really apply or shouldn’t apply to regulation of the Internet. Although the proposal will probably be leaked soon, until we see it we don’t know much about what the new regulations will look like in practice.