After weeks of speculation, the FCC finally put out its December meeting agenda revealing a proceeding on net neutrality.
The commission will consider an "Open Internet Order" that adopts some rules to preserve the Internet as a "platform for innovation, investment, competition, and free expression."
The agenda did not disclose whether the rule will call for reclassifying the broadband as a public utility but did say that it would "protect consumers' and innovators' right to know basic information about broadband service, right to send and receive lawful Internet traffic, and right to a level playing field, while providing broadband Internet access providers with the flexibility to reasonably manage their networks."
Stay tuned. More to come as the news develops.
Update: 1:15 am
As industry analysts and observers suspected, the rule, according to the New York Times, will not call for reclassifying broadband under the same statute that governs telephones. That decision is a victory for carriers and a large group of bipartisan lawmakers.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski proposed such a change in classification last spring after a court case cast doubt on the agency's authority to regulate the Internet.
Recognizing the fears of consumer advocates about the future of the Internet with no regulations, Genachowski will acknowledge, in a speech delivered Wednesday, that broadband providers have a commercial incentive to "leverage their position as gatekeepers to the Internet," according to prepared remarks obtained by the NYT.
"The record in the proceeding we've run over the past year, as well as history, shows that there are real risks to the Internet's continued freedom and openness," Genachowski plans to say.
The framework will forbid both wireline and wireless Internet service providers from blocking lawful content and allow carriers to charge consumers based on the amount of data they are using.
The proposal will allow companies to experiment with "managed services," the controversial idea of creating non-public broadband routes for special uses such as medical monitoring or the smart grid.
Industry wishing to experiment with managed services will have to justify why their service can't run over the public Internet and won't take away from the investment in the public Internet.
For now, questions remain about whether the order defines the public Internet broadly, as consumer advocates hope. If not, the fear is that when it comes to managed services, the exception will swallow the rule.
In response to the announcement, the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge offered praise for the Chairman.
"We commend the Federal Communications Commission for tentatively putting open Internet rules on the agenda for the Dec. 21 Commission meeting and for, we expect, circulating a draft order," said Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge.
Despite offering support, the group called for the commission to reclassify broadband as a public utility in the future saying it "would establish a firmer legal foundation, not only for open Internet rules but also for broadband policy generally."