The FCC Wants to Treat Broadband Internet the Same Way It Does Landline Telephones

Is the third time a charm for the controversial plan?

Myles Aronowitz/Netflix

If you are for a world where your internet provider doesn’t purposefully throttle your Netflix streaming as to frustrate you enough to switch to your provider’s own high-speed, competing streaming service (just one scenario we’ll put out there) — you’re likely on the same side of the Federal Communications Commission.

Today, the FCC heads back to the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. to argue that it has the authority to regulate internet providers, all with the goal of ensuring that all legal content on the internet is treated equally.

The agency has lost cases concerning net neutrality rules twice before in front of the same court and in front one judge in particular — David Tatel. Tatel and his robed crew have previously decided that the FCC hasn’t had enough legal ground to try to regulate internet access as if it’s a public utility like electricity or water service, and has sided with their opponents — high speed internet access companies — that the agency has overstepped the mandates of Congress.

Activists rally for a free internet in front of FCC headquarters in 2014. 

This time, however, things are expected to go a little different. Sources close to the case say that Tatel’s previous rulings set a “roadmap” for the current ruling and a framework that the FCC can work with. The game-changer in this case is that the FCC is defining “broadband” differently than before — it is now including it under a statute known as Title II, which places broadband in the realm of telephone service. Because the FCC has the full power to regulate the phones, the agency argues it has a solid case that it can attach many of its telephone rules to broadband.

The Obama administration supports the new rules and will likely support the FCC to make another legal attempt if they lose this round. What hinges on this case is if after federal court makes its ruling, whether Congress votes to allow the FCC to define what exactly is “broadband.”

What especially matters for you and for me is that the FCC has promised it doesn’t want to set prices for high-speed internet service, and promises that any new regulations will not allow them that power. So we’ll still be at the mercy of our internet service providers, or bear the fruits of a competitive market, however you want to look at it.

Let’s just hope that Netflix keeps streaming without buffering, there’s Jessica Jones to watch.

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