Tom Wheeler

In this Oct. 8, 2014 file photo, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks during new conference in Washington. Whose Internet is it anyway? Wheeler says he’s keeping that question in mind as he pitches the biggest regulatory shake-up to the telecommunications industry since 1996, when people still used noisy modems and referred to the “information superhighway” as a fun way to buy books or check the weather. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed new rules for protecting the open Internet which will be voted on at the FCC’s Feb. 26 open meeting. The new regulation would replace FCC rules struck down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit more than one year ago in Verizon v. FCC.

Under Wheeler’s plan, the FCC would reclassify broadband Internet access service—including mobile broadband—as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and also use its authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to protect competition and foster innovation.

The proposed rules would also explicitly ban broadband providers from blocking access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; from throttling or impairing lawful Internet and from showing favor to some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration – in other words, no “fast lanes.”  But, it would forbear from rate regulation and other Title II provisions that are irrelevant to broadband services.

“An open Internet allows consumers to access the legal content and applications that they choose online, without interference from their broadband network provider. It fosters innovation and competition by ensuring that new products and services developed by entrepreneurs aren’t blocked or throttled by Internet service providers putting their own profits above the public interest. An open Internet allows free expression to blossom without fear of an Internet provider acting as a gatekeeper. And it gives innovators predictable rules of the road to deliver new products and services online,” according to fact sheet posted on the FCC’s website.

The FCC commissioner’s plan is one championed by the White House. “This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs (Internet Service Providers) provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies,” Obama said in a statement back in November.

Other proponents of an open Internet also praised the FCC’s stance.

“I applaud the FCC chairman’s proposal to uphold the Open Internet. I was among the countless Americans who voiced opposition to the creation of Internet fast lanes. The Internet is such a hub for economic and innovative activity because people – not special interests — regulate the free flow of information,” said U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md. “I would like to thank the thousands of Marylanders who called, tweeted, wrote letters, and sent Facebook messages in support of an Open Internet.”

But some advocates of an open Internet were not so happy with the FCC’s idea of redefining the Internet as a public utility.

A study by the Progressive Policy Institute estimates that the rules could have a toll on consumer pockets.

“We have calculated that the average annual increase in state and local fees levied on U.S. wireline and wireless broadband subscribers will be $67 and $72, respectively. And the annual increase in federal fees per household will be roughly $17. When you add it all up, reclassification could add a whopping $15 billion in new user fees,” PPI analysts concluded.

“This proposal would stifle investment, innovation and consumer choice. Worse, the Chairman’s plan could have spillover effects into the broader Internet ecosystem and threaten Silicon Valley companies that rely heavily on the Internet,” said Broadband for America’s Honorary Co-Chairs John Sununu and Harold Ford Jr. in a shared statement. “Rather than jeopardize innovation and create legal uncertainty with burdensome new regulations, we urge Congress to work together to establish bipartisan legislation that would codify net neutrality principles and maintain the openness of the Internet.”