The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has the legal authority it needs to protect consumers by ensuring the Internet remains open to consumers as a source for innovation, creativity and economic growth, five public interest groups were due to tell the Commission today. The FCC has proposed rules to implement “net neutrality,” a concept that would make certain that the companies operating the networks that connect consumers and businesses to the Internet couldn’t play favorites.
In its comments to the Commission, the groups agreed with the FCC that the Commission under what is called Title I authority of the Communications Act can implement rules making certain consumers can access the lawful content, applications and services of their choice. In addition, the Commission has proposed principles that would require companies that supply Internet access, such as telephone, cable and wireless companies, to “treat lawful content, applications and services in a non-discriminatory manner” while imposing new disclosure requirements.
The Commission has said, and the groups agree, that Title I, a catch-all section of the Communications Act, is sufficient to implement the Net Neutrality rules that would protect consumers from anti-competitive and discriminatory activity by Internet Service Providers.
However, the groups also said in their comments that if the Commission has any doubt whether Title I would apply, then it should consider reclassifying Internet access services as “common carrier” services under Title II of the Communications Act. Internet access provided by telephone companies was a Title II service until 2005. A reclassification would not include a return to full price regulation, but would protect consumers and allow for increased competition, among other benefits.
“The worst possible outcome of the debate over FCC authority would be if there were no protections for consumers,” said Public Knowledge Legal Director Harold Feld. “If a court rules the FCC has no Title I authority, and nothing takes its place, then there would be no cop on the beat to protect consumers against abuses from telephone and cable companies.”
The filing argued: “Ultimately, if the Commission cannot satisfy itself that it has sufficient authority via ancillary jurisdiction to ensure an open Internet, the Commission must take immediate action to preserve its power to protect consumers and the open Internet – including consideration of reclassification of facilities-based broadband access as a Title II service. Without the power to protect a consumer’s ability to access the lawful content of their choice over the Internet, the Commission should pursue all options available to ensure the nation has a regulator capable of intervening to protect the nature of our telecommunications infrastructure.”
On other issues, the groups said the FCC should take a narrow view of what the Commission proposed as “managed services” offered over Internet connections. The FCC should limit its definition of “reasonable network management” to technical issues, leaving out of the definition censorship and copyright authority for carriers.
The groups signing the comments were Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, New America Foundation, Center for Media Justice and Consumers Union.
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