"The Internet must be fast, fair, and open. That is the message I've heard from consumers and innovators across this nation," Wheeler wrote in the op-ed. "That is the principle that has enabled the Internet to become an unprecedented platform for innovation and human expression. And that is the lesson I learned heading a tech start-up at the dawn of the Internet age. The proposal I present to the commission will ensure the Internet remains open, now and in the future, for all Americans."
He plans to ban Internet providers from intentionally blocking or slowing down any legal online content. He would also bar providers from charging websites for access to special Internet "fast lanes." The providers would be allowed to engage in "reasonable network management"—but not if the goal is to gain a business edge.
The proposal also includes a catchall provision to address unanticipated future abuses: Internet providers would not be allowed to "harm" consumers or websites.
Wheeler plans to classify broadband as a "telecommunications service" under Title II of the Communications Act, which would grant his agency broad new authorities. Net-neutrality advocates argue that the move is the only way to enact rules that can survive legal challenges.
But broadband providers fear the decision could lead to new regulations that have little to do with protecting an open Internet. Title II, which the FCC has long used to regulate landline phones, includes more than 100 pages of rules and procedures designed to ensure universal access and fair prices.
In the op-ed, Wheeler said he will "modernize Title II, tailoring it for the 21st century." He will waive provisions controlling prices and requiring the providers to allow competitors use their networks. The commission also does not plan to immediately impose fees on monthly Internet bills, as it does on phone bills.
But the FCC will invoke provisions requiring broadband providers to protect the privacy of their customers and ensure access for people with disablities.
The proposal would also give the FCC the authority for the first time to police disputes about congestion on the backend of the Internet. Websites will be able to file complaints with the FCC if they believe providers aren't offering reasonable access to load traffic onto their networks. Netflix, which has had to pay major providers in recent months for direct-connection deals, celebrated the announcement and said it would have filed complaints if the regulations had been available.
The FCC also plans to take a case-by-case approach in considering policies from cellular providers to exempt certain websites or services from monthly data caps.
The rules won't be finalized until the FCC votes on Feb. 26. The commission's two Republicans are expected to vote against the rules, but either of the two Democrats, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, could push for alterations.