Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler may be moving the country closer to the notion of network neutrality, the idea that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally.
On Wednesday, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Wheeler hinted that he would support regulations that would treat broadband operations like telephone companies and other “common carriers,” opening the door for the agency to more tightly regulate internet service providers. The idea is to find a new away to prevent ISPs from building “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for content that travels over their networks.
“We’re going to propose rules that say that no blocking, no throttling, [no] paid prioritization, all that list of issues, and that there is a yardstick against which behavior should be measured,” Wheeler said during a public interview at the event, as reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Although Wheeler did not explicitly endorse reclassifying broadband providers, he did say that the Title II standard is a better standard for judging what constitutes “just and reasonable” behavior, the Times reports. The FCC will vote on the new proposal on February 26th, he said.
Supporters of network neutrality argue that slow lanes will damage innovation and give larger companies an unfair advantage. They say that Title II regulation—a reference to a section of the 1934 Communications Act, which established regulations for the telephone industry—is the best way to protect the net. But critics of Title II classification worry that tighter regulations will destroy the freewheeling nature of the internet, while cutting into service providers’ profits and making it harder for them to invest in infrastructure.
If Wheeler does vote in favor of Title II regulation, it would certainly be a shift. In April, the chairman backed a draft proposal that didn’t reclassify internet service providers, and allowed “commercially reasonable” prioritization of network traffic.
The proposal set off a firestorm of controversy and protest that lasted several months. Last November, President Barack Obama issued a statement in favor of reclassification, and just last week, Google argued that its high-speed fiber internet service would benefit if all service providers were reclassified.
During the interview, Wheeler said that he he had an “a-ha moment” over the summer when he realized that the Telecommunications Act of 1996 applied Title II classification to wireless phone providers, but exempted them from many of its provisions.
Wheeler did say that there are times that prioritization “makes a whole heck of a lot of sense,” The Verge reports. But he also said that he opposed paid prioritization.