WASHINGTON, December 14, 2017—The Federal Communications Commission today voted to restore the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework that has fostered rapid Internet growth, openness, and freedom for nearly 20 years.
Following detailed legal and economic analysis, as well as extensive examination of comments from consumers and stakeholders, the Commission reversed the FCC’s 2015 heavy-handed utility-style regulation of broadband Internet access service, which imposed substantial costs on the entire Internet ecosystem.
In place of that heavy-handed framework, the FCC is returning to the traditional light-touch framework that was in place until 2015. Moreover, the FCC today also adopted robust transparency requirements that will empower consumers as well as facilitate effective government oversight of broadband providers’ conduct. In particular, the FCC’s action today has restored the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission to act when broadband providers engage in anticompetitive, unfair, or deceptive acts or practices.
The framework adopted by the Commission today will protect consumers at far less cost to investment than the prior rigid and wide-ranging utility rules. And restoring a favorable climate for network investment is key to closing the digital divide, spurring competition and innovation that benefits consumers. The Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order adopted by the Commission takes the following steps to achieve these goals:
- Restores the classification of broadband Internet access service as an “information service” under Title I of the Communications Act—the classification affirmed by the Supreme Court in the 2005 Brand X case.
- Reinstates the classification of mobile broadband Internet access service as a private mobile service.
- Finds that the regulatory uncertainty created by utility-style Title II regulation has reduced Internet service provider (ISP) investment in networks, as well as hampered innovation, particularly among small ISPs serving rural consumers.
- Finds that public policy, in addition to legal analysis, supports the information service classification, because it is more likely to encourage broadband investment and innovation, thereby furthering the goal of closing the digital divide and benefitting the entire Internet ecosystem.
- Restores broadband consumer protection authority to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), enabling it to apply its extensive expertise to provide uniform online protections against unfair, deceptive, and anticompetitive practices.
Report and Order
- Requires that ISPs disclose information about their practices to consumers, entrepreneurs, and the Commission, including any blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, or affiliated prioritization.
- Finds that transparency, combined with market forces as well as antitrust and consumer protection laws, achieve benefits comparable to those of the 2015 “bright line” rules at lower cost.
- Eliminates the vague and expansive Internet Conduct Standard, under which the FCC could micromanage innovative business models.
- Finds that the public interest is not served by adding to the already-voluminous record in this proceeding additional materials, including confidential materials submitted in other proceedings.
The item takes effect upon approval by the Office of Management and Budget of the new transparency rule that requires the collection of additional information from industry.
Action by the Commission December 14, 2017 by Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order, and Order (FCC 17-166). Chairman Pai, Commissioners O’Rielly and Carr approving. Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel dissenting. Chairman Pai, Commissioners Clyburn, O’Rielly, Carr and Rosenworcel issuing separate statements.