Net Fix: Title II, the two words that terrify the broadband industry


Title II, a provision in the country’s 81-year-old telecommunications law, could be used to tighten regulations on the telecom and cable industries. Here’s why they’re not happy about it.

by Roger Cheng and Ben Fox Rubin
February 2, 2015

    From left: Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Chairman Tom Wheeler, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly watch as protesters are removed from the dais during a hearing at the FCC in December.Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty ImagesThis story is part of a CNET special report looking at the challenges of Net neutrality, and what rules — if any — are needed to fuel innovation and protect US consumers.

    Heavy-handed. Archaic. Disastrous.

    Those are just some of the ways critics describe Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which lets the Federal Communications Commission set rates and ensure equal access to traditional phone service.

    As the FCC gets ready to propose new rules governing the Internet, the broadband industry — the cable, wireless and telecommunications companies providing Internet service in the United States — is using even more colorful epithets to describe Title II. That’s because the FCC, led by Chairman Tom Wheeler and backed by President Barack Obama, wants the broadband industry to abide by the same rules governing old-style telephone utilities. To do that, broadband will have to be governed by Title II.

    This month, the FCC will try to redefine what broadband is, how it’s delivered and whether all Internet traffic gets equal treatment. That concept of equal treatment — which means preventing broadband providers from favoring certain kinds of content — has been dubbed Net neutrality or the open Internet.

    Though it may seem like a topic only policy wonks can love, the debate over Title II has everyone from President Obama to comedian John Oliver weighing in. At stake is how the Internet will work and the kind of online access US consumers will receive in the future.

    On one side stand Internet service providers and their supporters, who argue that stringent regulations on what they can and can’t charge will stifle network investment and strangle innovation. Michael Powell, a former Republican chairman of the FCC who is now CEO of lobbyist trade group the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said in 2013 that any attempt to reclassify broadband under Title II amounts to “World War III.” The broadband industry players have already said they plan to legally challenge any attempts to bring Title II into the picture.