Common carrier death watch begins in Washington, D.C.

18 November 2017 by Steve Blum
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As the Federal Communications Commission wrapped up its November weed whacking on Thursday, attention turned to the expected release of a draft decision that will overturn the Obama-era decision that classified broadband as a common carrier service. According to a Reuters story, it’s coming soon…

The head of the Federal Communications Commission is set to unveil plans next week for a final vote to reverse a landmark 2015 net neutrality order barring the blocking or slowing of web content, two people briefed on the plans said.

In May, the FCC voted 2–1 to advance Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to withdraw the former Obama administration’s order reclassifying internet service providers as if they were utilities. Pai now plans to hold a final vote on the proposal at the FCC’s Dec. 14 meeting, the people said, and roll out details of the plans next week.

There are two separate issues: whether broadband is, and should be regulated as, a common carrier service, and should the FCC set out rules that require Internet service providers to treat all traffic the same. The two issues are linked, but not necessarily inseparable.

In 2010, the FCC made its first try at imposing network neutrality regulations, but it was nixed by a federal appeals court. The rationale was that net neutrality is a common carrier kind of rule, so that needed to come first. The decision left open the faint possibility that there might be a way to avoid common carrier status and still do net neutrality, but the FCC took the safe route the second time around.

It seems certain that FCC chair Ajit Pai will put a draft decision on the table that says broadband access is an information service, and not a telecoms service. That’ll take it out from under the common carrier – and common sense – umbrella. Whether he tries to keep some of the related network management and consumer protection rules in place anyway is an open question.

Expect an answer in the next few days.