Big broadband firms want ‘unfettered power’ over Internet: FCC chief

The nation’s biggest broadband providers oppose tough net neutrality regulations because they want “unfettered power” over the Internet, the head of the Federal Communications Commission said Friday.

In his most robust defense so far of the new rules, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler predicted court challenges by the telecommunications industry would fail.

And he said the “avalanche of arguments” against regulations designed to ensure the free flow of online traffic showed that the industry’s major firms had ulterior motives.


“We should conclude that the biggest broadband providers in the land have one objective — to operate free from control by their customers and free from oversight from government,” Wheeler said in a speech at Ohio State University.

“If they succeed, then, for the first time in America’s communications history, private gatekeepers will have unfettered power to control commerce and free expression,” he said.

Wheeler crafted the controversial regulations that the Democratic-controlled FCC approved last month on a party-line 3-2 vote.

They prohibit broadband providers from blocking, slowing or selling faster delivery of legal content flowing through their networks to consumers.

In five congressional hearings over eight days through Wednesday, Wheeler defended the FCC’s actions in the face of intense criticism from the industry and Republicans that increased federal regulation would hinder investment in broadband networks and services.

On Friday, Wheeler provided a more lengthy and full-throated defense in the speech at his alma mater, offering some of his sharpest comments about big broadband firms such as AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp.

“We can have an open Internet policy that advances the interests of tens of thousands of innovators and millions of Internet users; or we can have an open Internet policy that advances the interests of a few powerful companies,” Wheeler said.

“The choice is clear. And I’m proud that the commission has made the right choice, adopting strong, sustainable and sensible open Internet protections,” he said.

Broadband providers have said they are committed to those principles, but opposed the FCC’s decision to enact the rules by classifying broadband as a more highly regulated telecommunications service.

On Monday, the U.S. Telecom Assn. trade group and Alamo Broadband Inc., a small Texas provider, filed separate lawsuits against the FCC to stop the regulations. Other industry associations and possibly some additional providers are expected to join the legal effort, which could take three years to resolve.

Wheeler predicted that “the FCC’s new rules will be upheld by the courts.”

He said the FCC’s order addressed the problem federal judges raised last year when they tossed out the agency’s 2010 net neutrality regulations.

In its ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said the FCC had tried to enact restrictions similar to those faced by so-called common carriers without classifying broadband for that type of oversight.

“We have addressed that issue, which is the underlying issue in all of the debates we’ve had so far,” Wheeler said. “That gives me great confidence going forward that we will prevail.”

Although Wheeler has promised a light regulatory approach to broadband, Republicans on the FCC and in Congress strongly opposed the reclassification of broadband service because it allows for more regulation.

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