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Broadband Deployment Law Advisor Insight and Commentary on the Deployment of Communications Infrastructure

FCC Releases Statement to Regulate Internet Networks Under Limited Title II Authority

Posted in Accessibility (Persons with Disabilities), Broadband Adoption, Broadband Deployment, Consumer Disclosure Requirements, E-rate, High-Cost Universal Service, Infrastructure (Poles, Conduit and Rights of Way), Intercarrier Compensation, Mobile Broadband, Navigation Devices, Privacy and Cybersecurity, Spectrum Initiatives, Tribal Communities

Following reports yesterday that Chairman Genachowski was now prepared to assert FCC jurisdiction over the Internet, the FCC released the Chairman’s statement proposing a "third way" to regulate the Internet.  As anticipated by earlier reports, the Chairman’s statement reveals that the FCC would not seek to impose Title II on Internet services in its entirety.  Rather, the FCC would only recognize the "transmission component of broadband service" as a "telecommunications service."  In addition, the FCC would only apply a "handful" of Title II provisions to Internet networks, specifically, Sections 201 (just and reasonable service and charges), 202 (non-discrimination), 208 (complaint procedures), 222 (customer privacy), 254 (universal service) and 255 (disability access).  In doing so, the Commission would forbear from applying many other sections of the Communications Act that, according to the Chairman, are "unnecessary and inappropriate for broadband access service." 

The "third way" approach is the FCC’s attempt to find some middle ground between the status quo (Title I ancillary jurisdiction) and full reclassification of Internet access service as a telecommunications service under Title II.  Indeed, the Chairman admitted that "the extreme alternatives to this light-touch approach are unacceptable," and that "FCC policies should not include regulating Internet content, constraining reasonable network management practices of broadband providers, or stifling new business models or managed services that are pro-consumer and foster innovation and competition."

The statement follows reports that Representative Waxman and Senator Rockefeller had delivered a letter to the Chairman yesterday indicating their support for the FCC’s regulatory oversight of the Internet, which may have helped sway the Chairman to adopt this middle ground.  The statement also follows a letter from Commissioner McDowell to Rep. Waxman providing a brief history of the regulatory classification of Internet access services.  In that letter, Commissioner McDowell emphasized that, following the Supreme Court’s Brand X decision upholding the FCC’s classification of cable modem service as an information service, the Commission "without dissent" consistently classified broadband services as information services in the context of wireline, powerline, and wireless.

UPDATE: The FCC has also released an accompanying statement from the FCC’s General Counsel Austin Schlick that provides the "legal thinking" behind the "third way" approach. 

In addition, Commissioner Copps released his statement on the proposal, in which he admitted that he "would have preferred plain and simple Title II reclassification through a declaratory ruling and limited, targeted forbearance."

UPDATE: Commissioners McDowell and Baker have released their joint statement, finding the Chairman’s proposal "disappointing" and one that "deeply concerns" them.  Notably, the two Commissioners caution that the proposal will be shot down by the courts as exceeding the FCC’s authority absent a "specific mandate from Congress."  If that is the case, the Waxman and Rockefeller letter to the Chairman would suggest that some members of Congress would then try to give the FCC that mandate.

UPDATE: Commissioner Clyburn’s statement is now available on the FCC’s website, which, not surprisingly, supports the Chairman’s proposal.