Senate Democrats demand the FCC reclassify Internet providers under Title II

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“Our goal must be to protect the openness of the Internet for future generations.”

A group of 12 Senate Democrats are going to bat for net neutrality.

Led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the coalition is asking the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify broadband providers in a way that would ensure the preservation of the open Internet.

“We must take steps to prevent broadband providers from creating Internet fast lanes for those who can pay, leaving others stuck in traffic,” reads a letter the senators sent to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday.

Specifically, the senators asked Wheeler to reclassify Internet service providers (ISPs) as Tittle II common carriers under the Communications Act of 1934. This would ensure that the FCC could broadly regulate the companies and prevent them from creating a so-called Internet “fast lane.”

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Internet providers argue that Title II reclassification is not appropriate because, among other reasons, the legislation was largely crafted well before the advent of online technology, and therefore it can’t effectively apply.

Net neutrality advocates often counter by pointing out that the FCC has the power of “forbearance,” which means it could hypothetically pick and choose the parts of Title II to apply to Internet providers.

“Broadband is a more advanced technology than phone service, but in the 21st century it performs the same essential function,” the senators’ letter reads. “Consumers and businesses cannot live without this vital connection to each other and to the world around them.”

The senators’ letter comes at a time when the conversation about net neutrality has reached a cacophonic climax.

Advocates for net neutrality marked Tuesday as a key deadline for those who want to submit public comments to the FCC for the commission to consider as it drafts new rules.

An FCC spokesperson told the Daily Dot in an email that the Commission had received 780,000 comments regarding its proposed rulemaking as of Tuesday evening. The overwhelming majority of those comments are thought to be from people who support net neutrality, with many commenters explicitly pushing for Title II reclassification.

But in actuality, Tuesday was set to be more of a soft deadline because there is another commenting period that is scheduled to extend until September. Ultimately, Tuesday was not a deadline at all because the FCC extended it until Friday, July 18, at midnight, citing technical difficulties with its online commenting system.

“Not surprisingly, we have seen an overwhelming surge in traffic on our website that is making it difficult for many people to file comments through our Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS),” FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said in a statement. “Please be assured that the Commission is aware of these issues and is committed to making sure that everyone trying to submit comments will have their views entered into the record.”

The FCC aims to have new net neutrality rules in place by the end of the year. Whether or not those rules allow for a fast lane is still very much up for debate.

Of course, Congress can take the debate out of the FCC’s hands completely should it decide to pass new laws regarding net neutrality, as some lawmakers have already proposed, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

The full text of the senators’ letter to Wheeler is copied below. If you’re more a audio/visual person, Markey, in a thick Boston accent, lays out his argument for net neutrality in this video.

July 15, 2014

The Honorable Tom Wheeler

Chairman

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th St. SW

Washington, DC 20554

Dear Chairman Wheeler:

An open Internet has become the world’s most successful platform for innovation, job-creation and entrepreneurialism. An open Internet enables freedom of expression and the sharing of ideas around the world. An open Internet is driving economic growth throughout the United States.

Yet, the vitality and nondiscriminatory nature of this platform is at stake today. We must take steps to prevent broadband providers from creating Internet fast lanes for those who can pay, leaving others stuck in traffic. We need to prohibit paid prioritization, which would leave start-ups and small businesses to suffer in a new Internet slow lane, harming our economy and job growth. Our goal must be to protect the openness of the Internet for future generations.

At issue today is how the FCC should use its authority to keep the Internet open for business. We remain concerned that the Commission’s recent notice of proposed rulemaking suggests approaches that could undermine the openness of the Internet. Because the item tentatively concludes that Internet service providers would be allowed to offer faster delivery times for websites, applications or services that pay for it, the Commission’s proposal could fundamentally alter the Internet as we know it.

Instead, the Commission should take this opportunity to put truly effective open Internet rules on the books, and do so using whatever authority best stops these discriminatory practices. We believe that authority already resides in Title II. By reclassifying the transmission component of broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service, with appropriate forbearance, the FCC could prevent online discrimination.

Broadband is a more advanced technology than phone service, but in the 21st century it performs the same essential function. Consumers and businesses cannot live without this vital connection to each other and to the world around them. Accordingly, it would be appropriate for the FCC to reclassify broadband to reflect the vital role the Internet plays in carrying our most important information and our greatest ideas.

Thank you for your consideration and your work on this issue.

Illustration by Jason Reed

Fran Berkman

Fran Berkman

Fran Berkman is a technology reporter whose work for the Daily Dot focused on cryptocurrencies and internet freedom. In April 2017, he joined BuzzFeed as the deputy director of news curation.