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FCC won't appeal net neutrality ruling, will again try to rewrite rules

WASHINGTON -- The Federal Communications Commission won't appeal a court decision tossing out its net neutrality rules and will try again to craft regulations to ensure open access to the Internet that would stand up to expected legal challenges, agency Chairman Tom Wheeler said Wednesday.

The FCC won't take the controversial step of formally designating high-speed Internet service for the type of tougher regulation faced by phone companies -- a move many consumer groups have advocated -- but Wheeler said he will keep that option open "to utilize if warranted."

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"The Internet is and must remain the greatest engine of free expression, innovation, economic growth and opportunity the world has ever known," Wheeler said. "We must preserve and promote the Internet."

Last month's court decision provided the FCC with guidance about how it could rewrite the rules so they won't get tossed out again, Wheeler said.

But this will be the third time the agency has tried to come up with regulations to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or discriminating against some Web content, such as Netflix, that competes with the providers' own services.

Twice before, federal judges have struck down the FCC's approach after challenges from Internet providers. The most recent challenge was by Verizon Communications, which went to court to stop the agency's 2010 net neutrality order.

"Today’s announcement reminds me of the movie 'Groundhog Day,'" said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans on the Democratic-controlled panel.

"The Internet was free and open before the FCC adopted net neutrality rules. It remains free and open today," he said. "Net neutrality has always been a solution in search of a problem."

Republicans have opposed the FCC's attempts to enact net neutrality rules, arguing that the Internet has thrived because it has been free from government regulation.

But Democrats, including President Obama and his newly appointed FCC chief, Wheeler, strongly support net neutrality.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit tossed out the FCC's so-called open Internet rules. The court said the agency did not have the authority to enforce the rules on Internet service providers because it did not classify broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service.

Taking the step to put broadband service into the same category as more highly regulated phone service would resolve that problem, but Internet service providers and Republicans in Congress strongly oppose such a move.

Wheeler is to propose new rules in late spring or early summer that will try to fulfill key components of net neutrality without reclassifying broadband service.

One goal is to ensure that Internet service providers don't block consumers from accessing "any lawful content and services they choose," Wheeler said. The court ruling said such a ban was important but that the FCC did not provide enough legal rationale for it.

Another goal is to ensure that Internet service providers don't discriminate against different types of content, particularly by favoring their own services, such as movie streaming, over those of competitors.

The agency will try to revise those rules so they are similar to earlier data-roaming rules that withstood legal challenge.

The FCC also will try to guarantee an open Internet by enhancing and enforcing its rules requiring network operators to disclose how they manage Internet traffic.

Wheeler said the FCC also would hold Internet service providers to their commitments to honor the goals of the net neutrality rules while new ones are drafted.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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