IDG News Service - The U.S. Federal Communications Commission took a first step toward imposing limited regulations on broadband providers by voting Thursday to launch a notice of inquiry exploring the change.
The commission voted 3-2 to launch the notice of inquiry, or NOI, with its two Republicans voting against the proceeding. The NOI asks for public comment on a proposal by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski to reclassify broadband as a common-carrier regulated service.
Genachowki's proposal follows a court case earlier this year that cast doubt on the agency's authority over broadband providers. Under the plan, the FCC would refrain from most common-carrier regulations under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
Without reclassification, the FCC would likely not be able to create network neutrality rules, protect broadband customers' privacy, or redirect telephone subsidies to broadband deployment, Genachowski said. The limited application of common-carrier rules is a "narrow and tailored" approach that rejects the extremes abandoning FCC oversight of broadband or applying all Title II rules to the service, he said.
"My desire is simply that we restore the status quo and have a workable, light-touch framework for broadband access," he said. "My core focus is on achieving vital national broadband goals to spur investment, innovation, and our global competitiveness."
The notice of inquiry, or NOI, is a preliminary step toward creating new FCC policy. Under the NOI, the FCC will seek public comment on reclassifying broadband, and the agency would have to launch a lengthy rulemaking proceeding before reclassifying broadband as a regulated service. Genachowski said he has no deadline for competing a rulemaking proceeding.
In addition to Genechowski's proposal to apply limited Title II regulations to broadband transport service, the NOI also asks whether the commission should make no changes, and try to rule on broadband provider actions on a case-by-case basis, or whether it should apply all common-carrier rules to broadband.
There are pros and cons to any approach, Genachowski said. "This is not an easy issue, or one without complexity. I remain open-minded; I welcome the possibility of new ideas."
Republican Commissioner Robert McDowell suggested that new regulation would slow investment in the broadband industry. There's been a broad consensus among U.S. policymakers for years that broadband should be lightly regulated, and Genachowki's proposal would upset that long-standing model, he said.
Genachowski's plan would tie broadband to monopoly-busting regulations dating to the late 1800s, McDowell said. "The commission is seeking to impose 19th century-style regulations designed for monopolies on competitive, dynamic and complex 21st century Internet technologies," he said.
A move toward broadband regulation by the FCC could also embolden tyrannical governments to impose their own limits on the Internet, McDowell said. "In short, we will have lost the moral high ground," he said.
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