Title II, Take Three

Net neutrality


In a 3–2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in February to radically overhaul the way Internet service is regulated. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the other two Democratic commissioners voted to move forward with the new rules. The agency's two GOP-appointed commissioners opposed them.

The specifics of the change remained secret to the public prior to the vote. But descriptions made it clear that broadband and wireless data providers, long classified by the agency as lightly regulated Title I information services, will now be regulated as Title II telecommunications services—essentially making them public utilities, like the phone system. The move was designed to allow the FCC to impose strict net neutrality requirements that limit how much Internet service providers can control what passes over their networks.

The vote was the result of a lengthy process that Wheeler began in 2014; two previous efforts to install net neutrality rules ended in court losses. But the result of the vote was largely set near the end of last year, when President Obama released a statement calling for the agency to implement the strongest possible net neutrality rules.

Public attempts by the president to influence an independent regulatory agency are somewhat unusual. Obama's statement was the result of a White House effort that saw administration staffers acting, in The Wall Street Journal's words, "like a parallel version of the FCC." Wheeler had been considering less restrictive rules, but he changed course after the president's comments.