Information Service or Telecommunications Service?
Prior to 2002, broadband internet access service was provided mainly by traditional telephone companies over a digital subscriber line (DSL) and was regulated like telephone service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
In a 2002 Declaratory Ruling, the Federal Communications Commission, under then-Chairman Michael Powell, classified cable modem service as an interstate information service. An “information service,” according to Title I of the Communications Act of 1934, is “the offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications, and includes electronic publishing, but does not include any use of any such capability for the management, control, or operation of a telecommunications system or the management of a telecommunications service.”
The Declaratory Ruling explicitly ruled that high-speed internet access is not a “telecommunications service,” defined as “the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.”
The far-reaching ruling was not bipartisan. Then-FCC Commissioner Michael Copps warned, “Today we take a gigantic leap down the road of removing core communications services from the statutory frameworks established by Congress, substituting our own judgment for that of Congress and playing a game of regulatory musical chairs by moving technologies and services from one statutory definition to another.”
For the sake of regulatory parity, the FCC would later regulate DSL, wireless broadband, and broadband over power lines as information services as well.