An FCC rep said today that the five-member panel will consider a proposal from Chairman Tom Wheeler on net neutrality rules next month. The Washington Post reports that Wheeler recently told his fellow commissioners that he plans to circulate a draft proposal internally in January and hoped to get the measure passed weeks later. The agency is slated to hold its monthly meeting February 26. Spokeswoman Kim Hart didn’t offer any details on the proposal but confirmed the timetable.
The result of the FCC vote could affect the prices consumers pay for access to entertainment and other online content. The concept of net neutrality is that everyone with an Internet connection should have equal access to all legal content online, with no services or sites getting special treatment. Cable broadband providers including Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter disagree, arguing that they should be allowed to create tiers of service that enable some content providers to pay extra for speedy transmissions.
Today’s announcement comes less than two months after President Obama said the FCC should “reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act” — giving the agency broad authority to regulate the Internet as a phone-like communications service and a clear path to establish strong net neutrality rules. After Obama’s made his position clear in November, Comcast attacked him for what it called a “radical reversal” in his proposed policy and threatened to take the matter to court. A day later, the company backpedaled a bit, saying it has “stated on numerous occasions that we believe legally enforceable rules should continue to include strong transparency, no blocking, and anti-discrimination provisions. We don’t prioritize Internet traffic or have paid fast lanes, and have no plans to do so.”
Back in May, the FCC voted 3-2 vote along partisan lines to approved a proposal of Wheeler’s that said the panel would look at violations on a case-by-case basis. That idea addressed the objections that the D.C. Court of Appeals raised in January 2014 when it remanded the FCC’s previous net neutrality rules. The FCC later set up a comments period for the public to weigh in on the topic. It drew a whopping 3.7 million comments, more than doubling the number of the previous record holder: Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. The huge number of comments was juiced in June when John Oliver issued a call to action during his HBO show Last Week Tonight.