U.S. telecom regulator will write new 'Open Internet' rules

WASHINGTON Wed Feb 19, 2014 6:06pm GMT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal regulators will once again seek to set rules that make sure U.S. broadband providers do not block or slow access to any lawful content on the Internet.

The Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday it will not appeal a U.S. court decision last month that rejected a previous version of these so-called Net neutrality rules largely because of the way the FCC had classified broadband providers.

The court did reaffirm that the commission had authority to regulate broadband access under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the FCC will use that authority to review how it can bring back non-discrimination and no-blocking regulations while complying with the order.

At issue is whether Internet providers can be allowed to charge companies such as Netflix Inc or Google Inc for better Web service, something public interest groups said could hurt consumers.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the court invited his agency to preserve a free and open Internet.

"I intend to accept that invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court's test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet service providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition," he said in a statement.

FCC commissioners will now negotiate new rules that would ensure that network operators disclose exactly how they manage Internet traffic and that they do not unfairly limit consumers' ability to surf the Web or use applications.

New rules are likely to be finished in the late spring or early summer, a senior official said.

The January 14 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit spurred concerns that mobile carriers and other broadband providers would begin charging content providers for faster access to websites and services, though virtually all major providers pledged to continue abiding by the principles of open Internet.

The FCC will "hold Internet service providers to their commitment," Wheeler said.

CITIZEN PETITION

A citizen petition to the White House called for Internet providers to be treated more like telephone companies, which would give FCC more oversight power. It collected 105,572 signatures, prompting a response from the Obama administration.

"Absent Net neutrality, the Internet could turn into a high-priced private toll road that would be inaccessible to the next generation of visionaries," White House officials responded on Tuesday, deferring to the FCC on the matter.

The FCC had classified broadband providers as information service providers as opposed to telecommunications service providers, like a public utility.

Though the FCC did not move to begin the reclassification, Wheeler said the option remained on the table.

In the case against the FCC, Verizon Communications Inc had argued that the agency's existing version of "Open Internet" rules, adopted in 2010, violated the company's right to free speech and stripped control of what its networks transmit and how, amounting to government overreach.

"I am deeply concerned by the announcement that the FCC will begin considering new ways to regulate the Internet," Republican FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly said on Wednesday.

"Instead of fostering investment and innovation through deregulation, the FCC will be devoting its resources to adopting new rules without any evidence that consumers are unable to access the content of their choice."

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Oatis)