IU Media School professor’s paper was influential in FCC net neutrality decision

Barbara Cherry

Barbara Cherry

After months of public and political debate, the Federal Communications Commission voted on Feb. 26 to regulate the Internet in the same way as it does “telecommunications services” under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.

Many consumers and companies joined President Barack Obama in lauding the decision, saying it will continue to provide equality.

As a result, the FCC is expected to enact new rules that will prevent Internet service providers from manipulating how quickly sites are transmitted along their networks.

Among those proponents was Barbara A. Cherry, professor of telecommunications in The Media School at Indiana University.

“This ruling is critical to the FCC’s legal authority to adopt and enforce the Open Internet Rules established in this order,” she said.

But on March 12, when the FCC released the full text of the 400-page order, Cherry was excited to see how much of an impact her faculty research had on the FCC’s decision.

The FCC’s declaratory ruling frequently cites and relies on the analysis of Cherry and Jon Peha, a professor in the departments of engineering and public policy and of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University.

This is significant when you consider that more than 4 million comments were filed in this proceeding — the most in the history of the FCC.

Cherry and Peha co-authored an influential paper, “The Telecom Act of 1996 Requires the FCC to Classify Commercial Internet Access as a Telecommunications Service,” which was filed with the FCC in late December. The paper was cited and directly quoted 10 times in the ruling.

Importantly, Cherry and Peha’s analysis integrates technical and legal perspectives to explain how providers offer broadband Internet access services with the commercial and technical functionalities of telecommunications services.

Cherry formerly worked for the FCC as senior counsel in the Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis. Peha is a former chief technologist for the FCC. Also actively researching the issue have been Julien Mailland, an assistant professor of telecommunications, and Matt Pierce, a lecturer in The Media School who also serves as state representative.

“I think the FCC is doing the right thing,” Cherry told CBS News on the day of the vote. “It’s long overdue, and it needs to be done.”

Like others in favor of net neutrality, Cherry knows that the next step for the issue will be the courts. A crucial moment came when Obama came out with his opinion days after the midterm elections. Republicans in Congress have discussed enacting legislation to reverse the FCC decision but lack the votes that would be needed to overturn a presidential veto.

“I believe that the FCC declaratory ruling will withstand judicial scrutiny. It will be upheld,” she said today.

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