Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler confirmed on Wednesday that the FCC will have the chance to enact the strongest possible protections for the internet at its February 26 meeting.
In an op-ed for Wired, Wheeler detailed some of the proposals he would present to the FCC, including reclassifying the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act—a rule that consumer advocates and proponents of net neutrality have long said is one of the most important ways the FCC can ensure that the internet remains free of discrimination and paid-prioritization “fast lanes.” Wheeler had recently hinted that he would implement this rule.
But, in an unexpected and welcome surprise for consumer advocates, Wheeler also proposed using those same rules to regulate mobile networks in addition to broadband.
“After more than a decade of debate and a record-setting proceeding that attracted nearly 4 million public comments, the time to settle the Net Neutrality question has arrived,” Wheeler wrote.
The announcement paves the way for the FCC to approve those rules on February 26. If the commission’s decision aligns with Wheeler’s statement on Wednesday, “it will be a watershed victory for activists who have fought for a decade to protect the open Internet,” said Candace Clement and Matt Wood of the internet watchdog group Free Press.
“Only Title II gives the FCC the legal foundation it needs to guarantee such protections and carry them over to broadband,” said Clement and Wood.
Wheeler’s announcement carried a similar message.
“The internet wouldn’t have emerged as it did, for instance, if the FCC hadn’t mandated open access for network equipment in the late 1960,” he wrote.
Wheeler’s final position on the issue is a significant turnaround from his original stance, as he initially proposed allowing fast lanes—giving Internet Service Providers the right to charge online companies higher fees for speedier website loading times—as long as they passed a “commercial reasonableness” test.
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