FCC expected to classify broadband as utility, support municipal services


— 6:00 AM on February 3, 2015

Last week, the Federal Communication Commission raised the bar for broadband classification to 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. And the government agency isn't done tinkering with Internet service in the U.S. According to multiple reports, the FCC is expected to announce plans to treat broadband as a utility and to challenge some roadblocks to municipal ISPs.

Citing "industry analysts, lobbyists, and former FCC staffers," the New York Times says the Commission will call for broadband to be reclassified under Title II of the Communications Act. This shift would give the FCC broader power to regulate ISPs as utilities, though chief head Tom Wheeler is expected to "advocate a light-touch approach."

President Obama asked for Title II reclassification—along with stronger net neutrality provisions—in November. Wheeler reportedly reiterated the FCC's independence in meetings with web execs shortly thereafter, so it's unclear whether the agency will support all of the president's recommendations. Obama's "commonsense steps" to "keep the Internet free and open" include bans on content blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization.

In related news, The Washington Post reports that the FCC is considering challenging state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that impede the development of municipal broadband. The specifics of the laws are different in each case, the Post says, and "roughly 20 states" have similar restrictions. However, there is some disagreement over whether the FCC, a federal body, has the authority to intervene at that level of government.

The five-member Commission will vote on both proposals on February 26. More details are expected to leak before then, and it will be interesting to see how the public reacts. Folks seem to be pretty engaged on broadband-related issues, perhaps due to the dearth of competition in the U.S. Although 86% of Americans have access to 25Mbps service, only 37% can get that speed from more than one provider, and just 9% can choose between more than two.

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