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Get ready for the FCC to say the internet is a utility

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After years of dithering, manipulative scheming from mega telcos, bad proposals begetting bad proposals, months of F-bombs and death threats, and partisan warfare in Congress, it appears this will be the week we've all been waiting for: the week we find out exactly how the FCC will propose to regulate the internet like a utility.

The New York Times says utility-style regulation is "widely expected," and that the proposal will leak sometime this week. (We agree.) The Wall Street Journal's sources say it's happening. CNBC says it's happening. Expect a few more outlets to squeeze their sources to corroborate the rumor as we wait for the proposal to reach sunlight, hopefully around Thursday when it circulates to FCC commissioners and someone "accidentally" leaves a copy near a reporter at a bar on K Street.

Here's what you need to know. The FCC is expected to support critical protections that will, for the most part, preserve the status quo the internet has enjoyed forever. In short, that means:

  • ISPs won't be able to throttle your speeds,
  • they won't be able to block websites you want to visit,
  • and they won't be able to create "fast lanes" to websites or services that pay them off.

Perhaps the most important part, and one we're still waiting to see more detail about, is that the FCC is expected to dump wireless into the same bucket as wired broadband. It's a move that's sure to make companies like Verizon and AT&T foam at the mouth while they shove truckloads of money at lawyers and receptive lawmakers in Congress who either historically have hated the FCC or have simply found a novel way to compare something to Obamacare. Wireless services have long considered themselves special flowers and paid good money to be exempt from the kind of rules that protect the internet you get from your home ISP, which is why they've been allowed to do crazy stuff like block FaceTime and Google Hangouts for arbitrary reasons.

Wireless companies are no longer going to be special flowers that can screw you over whenever they want

This week expect to see more details about how ISPs would be reclassified and regulated under "Title II" of the Telecommunications Act: the law that net neutrality advocates say should have been used in the first place to govern internet companies, instead of classifying them as "information services," which was a fool's errand for the FCC. Critics (mostly the telecommunications giants and their allies) say that Title II regulation represents a burdensome, heavy-handed government imposition that will chill investment in America's internet. Of course, Verizon was happy to use the Title II classification when it actually saved it money in building out broadband, and Google recently told The Washington Post that it won't hurt rollout of Google Fiber.

As soon as the proposal leaks, you're going to hear lots of noise on both sides of the debate leading up to the FCC's vote on February 26th. As lawmakers weigh whether or not to step in and help the FCC or gut its authority, it's definitely going to be a big issue in Congress — possibly even the upcoming presidential election. Buckle up.