FCC Commissioner Michael Copps said the agency should reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service to get greater legal authority to enact net neutrality regulations, potentially throwing a wrench into FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's plan to push the regulations without reclassification.
Copps' support will be critical for Genachowski's plan, since the two Republican members of the five-member commission--Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker--have expressed strong opposition to Genachowski's proposal. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is a likely supporter of Genachowski's plan.
"These rules must be put on the most solid possible legal foundation and be quickly and effectively enforceable," Copps said during a speech at Columbia University's School of Journalism. "If this requires reclassifying advanced telecommunications as Title II telecommunications--and I continue to believe this is the best way to go--we should just do it and get it over with."
Underpinning Genachowski's legal rationale for the new plan is a finding from the FCC that broadband access is not being sufficiently deployed. Therefore, in a bid to fulfill that mandate, the FCC could enact net neutrality rules to ensure the delivery of Internet content, which would in turn increase demand and deployment of broadband services.
Net neutrality proponents argue that this is a weaker legal framework than reclassification. If passed as is, Genachowski's proposal could be challenged in court. Verizon (NYSE:VZ), AT&T (NYSE:T) and the CTIA all have argued against reclassification, and have said the FCC does not have the authority to do it.
Under Genachowski's current plan, wireless carriers would be prohibited from blocking services such as Google Voice and Skype that compete with their own voice and video offerings. However, wireless carriers would not face the same restrictions wired operators face on blocking Web traffic and other applications--a ban on unreasonable discrimination in transmitting lawful network traffic.
The plan for wireless networks includes transparency requirements on network management policies and a basic "no-blocking" rule. Genachowski said the FCC would closely monitor the development of mobile broadband and "be prepared to step in to further address anti-competitive or anti-consumer conduct as appropriate."
Copps argued for strong wireless protections. "As people cut their wired connections, why would we deny them openness, accessibility and consumer protections in the wireless world?" he said. "The implementation of such rights may need to vary a bit depending upon the technology platform--but the principle must stand."
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