Eshoo: Reclassify Web for net neutrality

A top House Democrat called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reclassify broadband Internet service so new net neutrality rules can stand up to legal challenges while still banning “fast lanes.” 

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) advised the commission to reclassify broadband as a "telecommunications service," but to use restraint when enforcing all the provisions that come with the new classification, in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. 

She said a "light touch" would be necessary when enforcing the new classification under Title II of the Communications Act. Applying all the rules under the new authority is "not necessary to ensure the FCC retains oversight of broadband for net neutrality, consumer protection and universal service goals." 

Eshoo is the ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. She is currently gunning for the top spot on the full panel. 

Broadband is currently classified as an information service, and Eshoo said the change would be the best way for open Internet rules to stand up to another court challenge — specifically citing a section that prohibits "unjust or unreasonable discrimination" from Internet providers. 

She said the rules should apply to both fixed and mobile broadband. 

Eshoo and other advocates have said the new classification is the only way to guard against Internet "fast lanes," which would allow companies to negotiate deals to get faster service, setting up a tiered system. 

She also put an emphasis on the rules barring Internet providers from blocking of slowing service to any particular site. She said recent settlements with AT&T and Verizon were brokered under that portion of the law. 

"Unless the Commission reclassifies broadband under Title II, it will not be able to take actions like these to protect consumers and businesses when it comes to their use of broadband and other modern communications services," she said. 

Broadband providers and other critics have blasted the classification, saying it would stifle innovation by regulating the Internet under outdated rules that govern telephones. 

"I do not support heavy-handed regulation and it is not called for," Eshoo said, denying the classification is "heavy-handed."

The FCC is currently considering rules under a different portion of telecommunications law. However, advocates say the new rules could set up Internet fast lanes for websites that are able and willing to pay for faster service. 

The FCC's proposed rule would ban broadband providers from negotiating "commercially unreasonable" deals that threaten the open Internet — leaving room for deals the FCC determines are reasonable.

The top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), has called for a hybrid approach, by blending authority from the new classification and other portions of the law to enforce the rules.