It's game time for net neutrality. US Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing new rules to protect the internet, recommending that telecom companies be treated like a public utility and thus overseen by the government. This is a blow to big cable companies who want to create "internet fast lanes" and the push to create a tiered system of internet delivery.
Wheeler will circulate the new proposed rules this week. Today, he outlined his plan to use Title II as a baseline for protecting net neutrality:
Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritisation, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply — for the first time ever — those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. 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.
This is a huge change from the previous plan Wheeler proposed for net neutrality, which did not reclassify broadband as a public utility. That (horrible) plan was roundly criticised for potentially killing net neutrality as we know it by allowing cable companies to develop "internet fast lanes."
Wheeler described his change in opinion in a statement published on Wired, explaining how he realised that his original plan would help telecom companies much more than ordinary citizens who just want fair access to the internet:
Originally, I believed that the FCC could assure internet openness through a determination of "commercial reasonableness" under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. While a recent court decision seemed to draw a roadmap for using this approach, I became concerned that this relatively new concept might, down the road, be interpreted to mean what is reasonable for commercial interests, not consumers.
Wheeler's new plan fits with President Obama's recommendations for net neutrality; Obama made a public statement in support of reclassifying telecom companies as public utilities late last year after people started freaking out about how terrible the FCC's original plan was.
The proposal also applies net neutrality to mobile, and will prohibit stuff like data throttling.
This is good news. By reclassifying broadband under Title II, Wheeler is giving the FCC the power it needs to properly defend the open internet from corporate interests.