Chairman Tom Wheeler will try to revive the FCC‘s net neutrality regulations with a view that a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in DC last month upheld the agency’s right to set rules for the Internet, even as it vacated much of the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order. Verizon had appealed the order, saying that regulators overstepped their authority. The FCC will not challenge the Appeals Court decision, but today the agency will open a docket seeking public comment on Wheeler’s proposals — expected to be formalized by summer. He wants to ban service providers from blocking any legal service. The court said that the FCC had not adequately justified that condition in its 2010 order. He also would ban discrimination — for example, offering some services at faster speeds than others — and require ISPs to be transparent about their network practices. While the court agreed with the FCC’s view that it has some rights to govern the Internet, justices also said that the agency tied its hands a decade ago when it defined broadband as a lightly regulated information service as opposed to a phone-like common carrier service. If the FCC runs into trouble with new rules, Wheeler will keep open the option of asking the FCC to change its mind and classify the Internet as a common carrier, a service that — from a legal perspective — is so important that it needs to be regulated. In addition, Wheeler hopes to promote consumer options by overruling state laws that bar cities and towns from creating public Internet services that might compete with private ones.
The court “invited the Commission to act to preserve a free and open Internet,” Wheeler says. “I intend to accept that invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition.” Yesterday the White House said that it would encourage the FCC to use its authority to revive net neutrality. Without rules “the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries,” the administration said in a blog post. “The resulting decline in the development of advanced online apps and services would dampen demand for broadband and ultimately discourage investment in broadband infrastructure. An open Internet removes barriers to investment worldwide.”