Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday he would propose new rules to regulate Internet service providers in much the same way as phone companies, a sharp departure from current practice.
PHILADELPHIA — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski said Thursday he would propose new rules to regulate Internet service providers in much the same way as phone companies, a sharp departure from current practice.
The new rules would be designed to protect consumers and could lead to bans on blocking Internet traffic, agency officials said.
The action is a victory for Internet advocates who have pushed the concept of an “open Internet” and stronger regulations. It is considered a defeat for telecommunications companies with fast-growing Internet divisions.
Telecom companies have said new rules would not change how they provide Internet service. But they fear that more federal regulations over how they run their networks could stifle innovation and lead to higher costs and lower profits in their Internet businesses.
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Seeking to calm Wall Street and Internet providers, FCC officials said they wouldn’t set prices for Internet service or establish draconian rules that could scare away investment into faster Internet speeds.
The new rules also wouldn’t extend to Internet content and Web sites, they said.
Comcast and Verizon Communications said they were disappointed in the new regulatory approach. But Comcast could be restrained in its opposition because it is separately seeking the FCC’s approval for a $30 billion acquisition of NBC Universal.
The FCC now considers the Internet an “information service” that is not subject to traditional telecom rules. That would change with this plan.
Thirteen technology companies voiced support for the plan through the Open Internet Coalition of like-minded Silicon Valley companies, nonprofit organizations and consumer groups. The companies include Google, Netflix, eBay and Dish Network.
“This framework will ensure that consumers have access to an open Internet, one that would preserve a level playing field for all participants,” the group said in a letter to the FCC.
Paul Misener, vice president of public policy at Amazon.com, said on a conference call that the proposed rules were “a great way to move forward. It’s not about regulating the Internet, it is about protecting the consumer.”
The FCC’s actions were in response to Comcast’s court victory last month in the closely watched BitTorrent case. The case captured national headlines when it was revealed that Comcast interfered with peer-to-peer Internet traffic in 2007.
BitTorrent is an application used for viewing online video. A Washington, D.C., appeals court said the FCC should not have taken enforcement action against Comcast because the agency didn’t have the legal authority.
Genachowski characterized his new regulatory plan as a “third way” between two extremes — almost no regulation or severe regulation. Among his four fellow FCC commissioners, Genachowski seems likely to gain the support of the two Democrats, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, a Republican, said the approach is “neither a light-touch approach nor a third way.”
“Instead,” McDowell declared, “it is a stark departure from the long-established bipartisan framework for addressing broadband regulation that has led to billions in investment and untold consumer opportunities.”