Is Broadband Internet A Public Utility?

Polly Mosendz | | May 14, 2014

With the FCC nearing a vote about proposed net neutrality regulations, Chairman Tom Wheeler issued a series of revisions to the proposal this week. The most interesting revision that Wheeler offers is an examination of whether or not net neutrality is the jurisdiction of the FCC at all. He invited public comments as to whether broadband Internet service could actually be a public utility, similar to gas, water, sewage treatment, and electricity. If broadband Internet is reclassified as a public utility, Internet service providers would be subject to stricter and more developed regulation, far beyond the scope of what the FCC can manage.

While a reclassification has not yet been made, the proposal does open the door to a discussion about the future of the Internet and what role it plays in our lives.

What's the argument?

There are two fundamental schools of thought when it comes to regulation: those who believe broadband should become a public utility, and those who believe broadband providers should be regulated via antitrust and consumer-protection laws. Neither approach is without flaws, but it is really too late to say which is the better approach: Broadband is arguably already a public utility, even if it may not be considered as such by the law...