Internet regulation may see a big change if the FCC adopts the wonky provision Obama called for this week. Jeanne Yurman reports.
Comments by President Obama this week poured gas on a slow burning debate in Washington, D.C., over something called Title II. It's a dry and wonky subject but it could have a major impact on how the Internet is regulated. Right now the Internet is treated as an information service. Title II - a provision in the 1996 Communications Act - would reclassify it as a telecommunications service - an essential service like electricity. Only this says Obama and supporters will give the Federal Communications Commission the muscle to ensure net neutrality or open access to the Internet. Broadband companies don't want Title II fearing it gives the FCC too much authority says Wharton's Professor Kevin Werbach. SOUNDBITE: KEVIN WERBACH, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, WHARTON SCHOOL OF BUSINESS (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The reason is Title II gives the FCC perhaps more latitude down the road to deal with, for example, pricing practices, usage based billing, interconnection charges and so forth. And so they're concerned I think that if the FCC reclassifies as the president has urged that it opens the door potentially for the FCC to be more restrictive and to impose more requirements that could affect their ability to engage in certain business models." Twice FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has tried to appease both camps by submitting plans that don't include Title II. And twice they've been rejected in court. Many legal experts say only with reclassification does an FCC plan have a fighting chance legally. Obama's comments have derailed Wheeler's goal to submit a new plan before year-end says Marvin Ammori, Fellow at think tank the New America Foundation. SOUNDBITE: MARVIN AMMORI, FELLOW, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION (ENGLISH) SAYING: "The FCC will adopt a rule probably in January, but hopefully earlier and once that rule is adopted the Republican Congress, which is really opposed to pretty much anything Obama says and has been very close to the carriers on this issue, the Republicans will adopt what's called a congressional resolution of disapproval to try gut that rule and get it thrown out even before it's implemented and Barack Obama will clearly veto that resolution and then that will be done and it will move on to court and hopefully third time's a charm and the FCC will be upheld this time on a strong legal ground of Title II." Both sides say that if Title II is included in an FCC proposal, the agency will have to battle not just Congress but a flurry of lawsuits from the broadband industry as well.