Epic battle shapes up over broadband reclassification

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The Federal Communications Commission has floated a plan to reclassify broadband access, re-igniting the battle over net neutrality and pitting the cable companies and telcos against consumer advocates and Internet companies like Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Yahoo. It is shaping up to be an epic fight in Washington, which indicates that it is certain to have real consequences for broadband users as well as providers.

The FCC wants to put broadband lines in the same category as telephone lines, which it has long enjoyed the authority to regulate. In April, the commission took a beating in a federal appeals court, which ruled that the agency went too far when it sanctioned Comcast in 2008 for slowing some peer-to-peer traffic. Under a policy of net neutrality, ISPs would not be allowed to discriminate against some traffic or block access to websites. By reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service, the commission would have the authority it seeks.

The reclassification effort is a component in the FCC's initiative to expand broadband deployment nationwide and promote higher speeds, which are goals in its recently released National Broadband Plan. In a long, detailed statement May 6, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, said that his reclassification plan offers a compromise or "third way" in the heated debate. It would put only the transmission element of broadband access in the telecommunications category and impose on it "only a handful" of the relevant regulations. To avoid spreading the whole panoply of common carrier rules to broadband, the commission would establish boundaries allowing it to forebear from regulating in those areas.

Brad Reed provides a detailed examination of the FCC's broadband reclassification plan in NetworkWorld, spelling out which common carriers' rules would apply to broadband access providers, and which would not. Grant Gross of IDG News Service offers a sense of how the battle will play out in the coming months, beginning with an FCC vote to launch the reclassification initiative.

For more:
- see FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's statement
- read Brad Reed's article at NetworkWorld
- read Grant Gross' article at NetworkWorld

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