FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defends proposed net neutrality reform

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler strongly defended rules he has proposed for the Internet that critics fear would result in preferential treatment for big companies and place too much power in the hands of the nation’s broadband providers.

“Let me be clear. If someone acts to divide the Internet between ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots,’ we will use every power at our disposal to stop it,” Wheeler said Wednesday in remarks at the National Cable & Telecommunications Assn.'s annual convention in Los Angeles.

That could incude regulating the Internet in a similar fashion to phone companies using Title II of the Communications Act. Such a move would likely face strong challenges from broadband providers as well as lawmakers who are wary of heavy regulation of the Internet.


Earlier this month, Wheeler floated a proposal that would allow broadband operators such as Verizon to charge content providers for faster delivery to consumers. The agency said it would require broadband providers to act in a “commercially reasonable manner” and all pacts for faster content delivery would be reviewed by the FCC.

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Consumer activists argue such a plan would end up creating a fast lane and slow lane on the Internet, cause prices to rise, and would be unfair to those who can’t afford to pay the toll.

Wheeler fired back that “we will not allow some companies to force Internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service.”

“Prioritizing some traffic by forcing the rest of the traffic into a congested lane won’t be permitted under any proposed Open Internet rule,” Wheeler said.

The FCC is expected to vote on May 15 to start the formal process of considering Wheeler’s proposed net neutrality rules which includes soliciting public comments. The agency hopes to have new Open Internet guidelines in place by the end of the year.

The regulatory agency’s previous efforts to establish net neutrality rules have been tossed twice by the courts. Wheeler said he is determined to craft a plan that will survive the courts without harming the public interest.

“As as chairman of the FCC, I do not intend to allow innovation to be strangled by the manipulation of the most important network of our time, the Internet, he said, adding that the agency will use “every power at our disposal to stop it.”

Wheeler’s willingness to consider Title II with regards to Open Internet rules was met with praise by Public Knowledge, which has been very critical of Wheeler’s previous proposals.

“We’re pleased to see the Chairman recognize Title II as a legitimate option for going forward with strong net neutrality rules,” said Michael Weinberg, a vice president at Public Knowledge. “We are also encouraged to hear him reiterate his opposition to fast lanes on the Internet, and his recognition that all Americans deserve access to ‘broadly available, fast and robust’ web experiences.”

Wheeler also stressed the need for increased competition in broadband and suggested that one solution may be municipally owned or operated broadband systems.

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