FCC Reaffirms It's Considering Treating Cable Companies as Utilities

The FCC is changing direction more regularly than a yoyo right now: first it plans to create a fast-lane internet, then it doesn't. Now, its senior lawyer has reaffirmed that it's considering treating broadband providers like utilities companies.

In a chat session on Twitter, Gigi Sohn—the FCC's senior counsel for external affairs—explained that the regulator plans to seek comment how realistic the idea of treating broadband access as a utility actually is. Indeed, that will form part of its "open internet" proposals which are due to be published Thursday.

It's not the first time that suggestion has been aired, but given all the flip-flopping, it's good to hear it reaffirmed. A shift to treating broadband as a utility would be welcomed by net neutrality advocates, and we've explained why before:

Net neutrality advocates have long argued that the FCC should regulate the internet under Title II, because that means internet service providers would be treated like "common carriers" that must act in the public interest. This is currently how the telephone system is regulated. Specifically, Title II forbids "discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service."

Sounds pretty great, huh? But while Sohn explained on Twitter that "[The] chairman has always been clear that Title II is a viable option," she also confirmed that the FCC has been looking at Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act. That would allow case-by-case regulation of broadband, which would allow the commission to block any deals that are not "commercially reasonable".

If that sounds like a weak option, it's because it is. Net neutrality advocates are keen to point out that a 706 tack would likely lead to more legal challenges on individual cases, as cable firms push to offer pay-to-play services. All in then, it still remains unclear exactly what will come of the FCC's net neutrality proposal tomorrow. Let's wait see. [Guardian]

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