FCC homes in on broadband control

By a party-line split vote of 3 to 2 the FCC has moved toward giving itself the authority to regulate the transmission component of broadband service, a power the commission's Democratic majority believes is central to expanding the availability of broadband.

The next step is invite public comment on the proposal to overturn a previous Commission ruling that classified broadband transmission as a lightly regulated information service. The proposal would designate broadband transmission as a telecommunications service, which, as with telephone service, would make it subject to stricter regulation.

The Commission has said it intends 'a third way' between over and under regulation and will exempt broadband from most of the regulatory options it has under the stricter designation, keeping only those regulations that are necessary “to implement fundamental universal service, competition and market entry, and consumer protection policies.”

The FCC. began reconsidering its broadband regulation policies after a federal court of appeals in April invalidated the 'net neutrality' approach that the commission had long taken. The FCC claimed that Comcast had breached this principal in blocking access by its users to BitTorrent, a file-sharing service, the court said Comcast had the right to do so. In an attempt to recapture the ability to regulate traffic management, the FCC has said it will not seek to rule on content or consumer pricing.

The debate will inevitably set network providers against service providers and sets the scene for an enormous lobbying bonanza.

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