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FCC to try again on Internet rules

by EDWARD WYATT New York Times News Service on February 20, 2014 10:35 AM

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission will propose new rules to encourage an open Internet, including prohibiting companies that provide broadband service to consumers from blocking any sites or services.

The proposals, to be introduced by Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the commission, will also include measures that will seek to prohibit Internet service providers from discriminating against any providers of Internet content. A federal appeals court ruled last month that the FCC overstepped its authority with rules that treated Internet service providers as regulated utilities or common carriers, such as telephone service.

The court said that the FCC did have authority to oversee broadband service in ways that encouraged competition and the expansion of broadband. Because that part of the ruling essentially expanded the FCC’s authority, the commission will not appeal the ruling, handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The commission’s move comes as it will begin considering the formal request by Comcast, one of the nation’s largest cable and broadband service providers, to take over Time Warner Cable, one of its biggest competitors. The deal has raised concerns that the increased power represented by the merged companies would allow it to strong-arm providers of Internet content, like video, into paying for the right to reach broadband customers.

The new rules would prohibit discrimination — that is, a broadband service provider would have to treat all content equally, an approach that is called Net neutrality.

The commission will not seek to immediately reclassify Internet service as a utility. Wheeler said that the commission will retain the right to do so, however, if its new rules are approved and appear not to be working adequately.

Increased disclosure of providers’ network practices also will become a subject of more rigorous enforcement, Wheeler said.

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