Veteran net neutrality advocate Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), joined by 11 other like-minded Senate Democrats, is calling for the FCC to reclassify Internet Access Service—the transmission component separate from the content—as a Title II telecommunications service as it attempts to recraft open Internet rules thrown out by a federal court.
That came in a letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler Tuesday, the deadline for initial comment on Wheeler's proposal not to reclassify. Wheeler has said Title II is still on the table, but thinks he can restore anti-blocking and anti-unreasonable discrimination rules using other authority.
But the senators said they are concerned that approach could fundamentally alter the Internet by allowing "faster delivery times for websites, applications or services that pay for it," or the so-called fast and slow lanes that have become a hot-button issue.
"Broadband is a more advanced technology than phone service, but in the 21st century it performs the same essential function. Consumers and businesses cannot live without this vital connection to each other and to the world around them," they wrote. "Accordingly, it would be appropriate for the FCC to reclassify broadband to reflect the vital role the Internet plays in carrying our most important information and our greatest ideas."
Wheeler has pointed out that the court gave the FCC a path to sustainable rules via a commercially reasonable standard for accepting some types of discrimination—say, prioritizing health monitoring over game playing—on a case by case basis, as an alternative to the ban on unreasonable discrimination the court threw out. He has said repeatedly that did not mean fast or slow lanes, or paid priority that hurt competition, innovation or investment.
The senators were joined at a press conference Tuesday by representatives of Public Knowledge and Free Press, who are advocating for Title II.
The letter, reprinted below, was signed by senators Al Franken (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Oreg.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Kristen Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
The Honorable Tom Wheeler
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th St. SW
Washington, DC 20554
Dear Chairman Wheeler:
An open Internet has become the world's most successful platform for innovation, job-creation and entrepreneurialism. An open Internet enables freedom of expression and the sharing of ideas around the world. An open Internet is driving economic growth throughout the United States.
Yet, the vitality and nondiscriminatory nature of this platform is at stake today. We must take steps to prevent broadband providers from creating Internet fast lanes for those who can pay, leaving others stuck in traffic. We need to prohibit paid prioritization, which would leave start-ups and small businesses to suffer in a new Internet slow lane, harming our economy and job growth. Our goal must be to protect the openness of the Internet for future generations.
At issue today is how the FCC should use its authority to keep the Internet open for business. We remain concerned that the Commission’s recent notice of proposed rulemaking suggests approaches that could undermine the openness of the Internet. Because the item tentatively concludes that Internet service providers would be allowed to offer faster delivery times for websites, applications or services that pay for it, the Commission’s proposal could fundamentally alter the Internet as we know it.
Instead, the Commission should take this opportunity to put truly effective open Internet rules on the books, and do so using whatever authority best stops these discriminatory practices. We believe that authority already resides in Title II. By reclassifying the transmission component of broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service, with appropriate forbearance, the FCC could prevent online discrimination.
Broadband is a more advanced technology than phone service, but in the 21st century it performs the same essential function. Consumers and businesses cannot live without this vital connection to each other and to the world around them. Accordingly, it would be appropriate for the FCC to reclassify broadband to reflect the vital role the Internet plays in carrying our most important information and our greatest ideas.
Thank you for your consideration and your work on this issue.