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FCC Signals Intent On Net Neutrality Decision, Redefines Broadband

Chairman Tom Wheeler previewed next month’s vote in remarks made yesterday at CES.

FCC Signals Intent On Net Neutrality Decision, Redefines Broadband
[Photo: Flickr user Ministerio TIC Colombia]

After months of hemming and hawing, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler indicated yesterday that he would advocate a net neutrality policy compatible with President Obama’s vision for treating the Internet as a public utility and prohibit Internet service provider practices such as blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.

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“We’re both pulling in the same direction,” Wheeler said in a public interview at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

As recently as December, Wheeler appeared to be interested in a hybrid approach designed to accommodate the demands of infrastructure technology companies, which have vocally opposed the net neutrality framework Obama outlined in November. In Obama’s view, consumer broadband should fall under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which ensures that utilities like electricity are open to all and devoid of fast lanes.

Yesterday Wheeler dismissed the lobbying efforts of companies such as Cisco and IBM. “After the president said what he said about Title II, we still had a record bidding for spectrum from ISPs [Internet Service Providers] and continued announcements about new gigabit plants going out,” he told interviewer Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumer Electronics Association.

Wheeler will introduce the final language for his proposed policy on February 5; FCC leaders will vote on the policy February 26.

In addition, Wheeler proposed changing the definition of broadband in order to promote faster internet speeds. Under the new standards, broadband, or “advanced telecommunications capability,” in FCC parlance, would be defined as 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream–an improvement from its current definition of 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream.

The recommendation stems from the FCC concern that internet service providers are failing to serve rural communities, which, in an increasingly digital economy, would effectively leave them cut off from trade and education.

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According to the FCC, 55 million Americans lack access to broadband service that would meet the proposed redefinition. Of those, 53 million live in rural areas.

The FCC is required by Congress to determine whether broadband “is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.” It last updated its broadband standards in 2010.

[via Ars Technica]

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About the author

Senior Writer Ainsley Harris joined Fast Company in 2014. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.

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