In a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission decided today to proceed with consideration of Chairman Tom Wheeler's controversial net neutrality proposal, and to take public comments on the possibility of reclassifying broadband from a Title I information service to a Title II telecommunications service.
The full proposal, which has been the subject of a heated debate since its announcement, has not yet been made public, although Chairman Wheeler indicated that it may be available by the end of the day. But reports suggest that the proposal would insist on baseline service levels from broadband providers while also allowing for the possibility of some paid prioritization deals, subject to strict review and policing by the FCC.
In addition, the agency will seek public input on another option: reclassifying broadband service under the Telecommunications Act from an information service to a telecommunications service, making it akin to a utility subject to significantly more oversight from the agency.
Reclassification would potentially represent a radical transformation of the way the FCC regulates Internet service. And although the agency has suggested in the past that it would waive some of the Title II requirements through the regulatory forbearance process, doing so would be a legally murky proposition. Indeed, it's not clear that the agency has the legal authority to reclassify Internet service at all.
Net neutrality advocates have heavily pushed for reclassification in recent days, and several protestors who favor the regulatory overhaul were escorted by security out of today's FCC meeting. Both sides have already weighed in formally through a series of letters making cases for and against reclassification. In the aftermath of today's vote, lots more will follow. The upcoming comment period on the proposal, set to last 60 days, with another 60 days for replies, is expected to be unusually heated.