By Alina Selyukh
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. communications regulator on Wednesday confirmed expectations by proposing new "net neutrality" regulations that would treat Internet service providers more like public utilities, an approach endorsed by President Barack Obama.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, in an op-ed published on Wired.com, said he aims to establish the "strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC" that would apply, for the first time, to both wireless and wired broadband providers.
As expected, his proposed rules would ban Internet Service Providers from blocking and slowing down, or throttling, lawful Internet content and services. They also would block ISPs from charging content companies for swifter delivery of their content via deals known as paid prioritization.
The five-member FCC is slated to vote on the proposed rules on Feb. 26.
In a speech at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, Wheeler said ISPs' behavior should be measured against a yardstick of whether it is "just and reasonable," referring to a standard often applied to public utility companies to make sure they do not hurt consumers or competition.
Comcast Corp, Verizon Communications Inc, AT&T Inc and other prominent ISPs, excluding Sprint Corp, have argued that a stricter regulatory environment, under the authority of Title II of communications law, would impede investments and innovation.
Wheeler, however, sought to preserve incentives for ISPs to invest in networks, saying: "There will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling," he wrote. "Over the last 21 years, the wireless industry has invested almost $300 billion under similar rules, proving that modernized Title II regulation can encourage investment and competition."
Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter and other cable stocks moved higher on Wednesday as investors received some clarity on how the new rules would affect broadband providers. Comcast shares rose 3 percent to $57.12, while Verizon and AT&T gained less than 1 percent.
The FCC last year received some 4 million comments after Wheeler's original proposal left the door open to "commercially reasonable" discrimination.
Obama in November gave net neutrality advocates a boost, calling for the strictest rules possible and suggesting the FCC reclassify ISPs as more heavily regulated "telecommunications services" under Title II, instead of the current "information services."
"Under that authority my proposal includes a general conduct rule that can be used to stop new and novel threats to the Internet," Wheeler wrote.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; additional reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Christian Plumb and Dan Grebler)