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Why Are ISPs Terrified of Being Reclassified

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We are weeks away from Genachowski presenting to Congress the National Broadband Plan. The plan is designed to address the lack of broadband availability throughout the United States and in many under-served and economically depressed areas. As the March 17th date grows closer -- ISPs such as AT&T, Verizon, Qwest and the NCTA are launching a feverish campaign. The crusade is meant to convince the FCC that reclassifying Internet Service Providers is unnecessary. The FCC is considering reclassifying ISPs from Title I: Telecommunications Service to Title II: Broadcast Services.  These classifications are based on the Telecommunications Act of 1996 - which is an amendment to the Communications Act of 1934.

So what is the big fuss all about - well it's about "authority." The reclassification would give the Federal Communications Commission authority over the ISPs.  Title II is the very same classification that regulates telecommunications companies.

Title II: Broadcast Services

Outlines the granting and licensing of broadcast spectrum by the government, including a provision to issue licenses to current television stations to commence digital television broadcasting, the use of the revenues generated by such licensing, the terms of broadcast licenses, the process of renewing broadcast licenses, direct broadcast satellite services, automated ship distress and safety systems, and restrictions on over-the-air reception devices.

Today ISPs are considered information services and adhere to Title I which simply state:

Helps to outline the general duties of the telecommunication carriers as well as the obligations of all Local Exchange Carriers (LECs) and the additional obligations of Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers (ILECs).

As you can see there is a significant difference on how the FCC manages these two services.

The Technology Policy Institute which is a think tank, and receives funding from various ISPs such as AT&T and Verizon, supports the ISP position.

TPI urged the FCC not to reclassify broadband as a Title II service, as the agency reportedly is considering. Such a step, he wrote in comments submitted to the FCC, would "adversely affect innovation, investment, and consumer welfare, and would undermine the Commission's goal of extending broadband penetration, particularly to underserved populations." Lenard said his "earlier comments on the Open Internet NPRM apply even more strongly to the proposal to reclassify broadband as a Title II service."

--Thomas Lenard, TPI President"

It seems to be unclear if this reclassification is part of the National Broadband Plan. Genachowski has been asked about the reclassification but refuses to answer the question. I did review the preliminary 56 page document and it made no mention to that fact.  In the meantime, Genachowski is not backing down and is committed to bring broadband access to every American household.

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