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Congressman Advocates Hybrid Net Neutrality Rules

6 Oct, 2014 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) says the FCC should reclassify ISPs as telecommunication carriers and apply regulatory oversight

Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) says the Federal Communications Commission should reclassify Internet Service Providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934, in addition to applying regulatory oversight via section 706 of the Act. 

The FCC Oct. 7 is slated to hold a network neutrality roundtable to deliberate "new ideas” — including hybrid regulation — for safeguarding an open and fair Internet, in addition to addressing more than 3.7 million public comments on the issue.

Under the hybrid approach outlined in Waxman’s letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC would reclassify broadband providers as common carriers under Title II, and then use its authority under section 706 to establish three-bright line rules:  a no blocking rule, a no throttling rule, and a no paid prioritization rule. 

Heretofore, advocates have pushed either Title II or section 706, depending on what side of the issue they are.

“Using a combination of reclassification under Title II and section 706 would give the FCC broad authority to establish strong rules to protect the open Internet. This approach can produce the bright-line protections that advocates are seeking while avoiding the invocation of the Title II authorities most strongly opposed by the broadband providers,” Waxman wrote in the Oct. 3 letter.

The veteran lawmaker, who is retiring this year, is ranking member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Major ISPs, understandably, are not in favor of reclassification, which they argue would subject them to heightened regulation and possible taxation, among other concerns. 

Net neutrality advocates counter that companies such as Netflix that sell service — notably video — to consumers have an obligation to ensure that those services can actually be delivered. And part of that obligation is that ISPs ensure there is adequate connectivity between other networks.

Indeed, Netflix, which is responsible for a lions share of Internet traffic during peak primetime hours, reluctantly agreed to pay four ISPs added fees to ensure smoother streaming access for its subscribers using the ISPs’ broadband networks.

Wheeler said any new rules should require ISPs be transparent about their network policies with subscribers, would not allow them to block any legal content to subscribers and would restrict ISPs from acting “in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.”

The latter worries net neutrality advocates as it leaves open the door to prioritized lines of broadband to services “willing” to pay for smoother access. Indeed, The FCC is scrutinizing Netflix’s recent peering agreements with ISPs.

The government is re-addressing net neutrality after an appeals court earlier this year threw out provisions of the FCC’s net neutrality guidelines, which mandated all Internet traffic be treated equally, among other provisions.


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