Report: FCC moves towards ‘hybrid’ Web rules

The head of the Federal Communications Commission is reportedly close to settling on a plan for new rules on Internet service providers.

The “hybrid” plan under consideration at the FCC would split broadband Internet service into two component parts — one retail service for the transaction between customers and service providers such as Comcast, and a separate back-end service between those Internet providers and the websites — according to The Wall Street Journal.

The FCC would then reclassify that back-end service, so it could be treated as a so-called common carrier, using the same authority that it uses for traditional phone lines, the Journal reported.

The plan is sure to leave many unsatisfied, since it could potentially still allow for Internet service companies to cut deals to speed up certain services, potentially creating online “fast lanes,” which have earned the ire of millions of critics. Some analysts say that even reclassifying all of the Internet, however — as many have supporters have urged — would not entirely ban those “fast lanes.”

It's also unclear how the proposal would stand up in court to an almost certain legal challenge from Internet providers.

Web companies, such as Verizon, have also warned against reclassification either in whole or in part, which they say would not pass legal muster. 

Wheeler’s reported plan is similar to proposals from Mozilla, the Internet service company, and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), an advocacy group, which have both urged the commission to consider a hybrid approach.

An FCC official maintained that no final decisions have yet been made.

“The chairman has said that all Title II options are under serious consideration, including proposals by Mozilla, CDT and others,” FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said. Reclassifying broadband Internet would evoke regulations under Title II of the Communications Act, the legal portion which the FCC uses to regulate public utilities.

A top Mozilla official met with FCC lawyers earlier this week to talk about the company’s proposal, which could indicate that their proposal is being taken seriously. 

The FCC has been furiously working on new rules of net neutrality — the concept that all online traffic should be treated equally — for months, since a top appeals court tossed out its old rules in February.

The public backlash to Wheeler’s initial proposal, which would not reclassify any portion of broadband Internet service, was swift and loud, with many critics lambasting the idea of “fast lanes” online.

New rules are expected to be issued by the end of the year.