Light-Touch Broadband Reclassification Gets More Support

In the wake of the D.C. Circuit’s opinion in Comcast v. FCC, the FCC faces a difficult decision. Behind door No. 1 is reclassification, which will require the agency to tackle head-on stiff political opposition from broadband carriers. Behind door No. 2 is the empty shell of ancillary authority, which will risk further court losses and ultimately a tarnished legacy. The Washington Post reports that FCC Chairman Genachowski is leaning towards Door No. 2, which many people believe would be a mistake.

We’ve made no secret of our advice for the Chairman: Reclassification is the best option if he wants to empower the FCC to promote universal and open broadband infrastructure and to protect Internet users.

Seemingly unwilling to address the merits of reclassification through a full and transparent proceeding at the FCC, industry incumbents and their astroturf allies are doing everything in their power to force the option off the table completely. They’re trying to make reclassification out to be some drastic and heavy handed move by the FCC. We’ve responded to the substance of their arguments already. Unconvincing on the merits, another of their tricks is to paint progressive public interest groups as extremists and outliers, rather than as a voice for the nearly 250,000 Americans who have spoken up to tell the FCC to act on reclassification.

And now, plenty of others are jumping on the bandwagon. The FCC just collected reply comments in its open proceeding on preserving the open Internet. Among non-broadband service providers, many filers demonstrated substantial support for reclassification.

Take the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), a well known nonpartisan D.C. public policy organization. CDT is generally a vocal opponent of FCC regulation of the Internet. Yet, CDT supports reclassification as a tool for the FCC to establish its authority over broadband services. As CDT points out, reclassification “would not require a heavy-handed, backward-looking regulatory regime” thanks to the FCC’s forbearance power. CDT gets it right: reclassification is a balanced exercise of FCC authority over the infrastructure, not in any way a broad power grab over the Internet.

The National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA), strongly supports Title II reclassification as the best path forward. NASUCA emphasizes that the FCC’s open Internet proceeding (and broadband agenda writ large) is about the communications infrastructure itself, and that Title II classification would make this clear. NASUCA notes, “A direct Title II approach would make clear that the Commission was not regulating the Internet, i.e., the content carried on the wires, but merely the wires themselves, i.e., the underlying transmission network or physical layer.”

The Broadband Institute of California also filed in strong support of reclassification, explaining in detail the history of regulation at the FCC and the changed circumstances since the initial deregulation. Their filing explains why reclassification is not merely one option, but is in fact the best.

Technology companies and technology trade associations are joining the party, too. These businesses have a very clear agenda: They want to protect the Internet, not to regulate it. The Computer & Communications Industry Association puts it clearly: “The most sensible and even-handed action that the Commission can take is to apply Title II telecommunications law to the transmission component of Internet access service.” COMPTEL, which bills itself as the “leading industry association representing communications service providers and their supplier partners,” believes that the FCC could still proceed under Title I, but says that reclassification would “clearly reestablish jurisdiction” to preserve the open Internet and promote competition. Google takes a similar approach, supporting reclassification among other options, and asking the Commission to use its full authority and pursue whichever path is “most sustainable legally.”

Reclassification is the “light touch” framework, the right approach to protect the open Internet and advance the policy goals of the National Broadband Plan, and to preserve the FCC’s (Congressionally-sanctioned) authority over the dominant communications infrastructure of our time.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good