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FCC chair defends net neutrality, open Internet

Posted: 04 Mar 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MWC  net neutrality  open Internet  internet regulation 

Federal Communications Commission Chair Tom Wheeler stands by the FCC's order to uphold net neutrality and open, unregulated Internet by defining the Internet as a "telecommunications service," which agrees with Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.

On the other hand, Internet content providers and network operators, Congressional Republicans, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell (who originally proposed rules for "net neutrality") and GSMA Director General Anne Bouverot, who wondered how Wheeler could support a "1930's law" to regulate a 21st-century technology, opposed the FCC order, which was passed Feb. 26 with a 3-2 vote. Wheeler and President Barack Obama, however, strongly supported the order.

Wheeler responded by recalling his original plan for net neutrality, formed when he took over the FCC chair some 15 months ago. At that time, he favoured regulation under a brief provision, Section 706, of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

Wheeler defends net neutrality at MWC 2015

FCC Chair Wheeler defends net neutrality and open Internet at the Mobile World Congress 2015.

He said he changed his mind because of a difference in wording. The older law requires that all actions by "common carriers" of communications services be judged by the FCC as "just and reasonable" within "the public interest." Section 706's standard, however, requires actions by an operator like AT&T or Verizon, or a content provider like Twitter or Google to be "commercially reasonable."

Wheeler said, "That means reasonable for the network provider, rather than what is reasonable for the consumer and the innovator. If that's the test, it's the wrong question and the wrong answer."

Wheeler further countered Bouverot's doubts by pointing out the limited scope in which the FCC applied the Telecommunications Act of 1934, which contains 48 sections. Recalling the FCC's establishment of rules for wireless communication, he said, "The FCC forbore from 19 of those 48. We're not using 27 of those 48. We are 50 per cent less regulatory than the wireless programme that was so successful."

A list of "NO's"

Wheeler came to the Mobile World Congress armed with leaflets that list the provisions of the Communications Act that will not apply to the Internet. Wheeler stressed that the "FCC Open Internet Rules" follow the principle that "neither government nor private action should prevent the public from accessing lawful content, applications and services."

Among a list of "NO's" on the FCC leaflet, Wheeler hammered the point that there will be "no regulation of the Internet," similar to past regulatory practices for radio, broadcasting and other media forms.

The list goes on with "no utility-style regulation, no rate regulation, no tariffing, no network unbundling, no regulation of technical operating requirements and no new taxes or fees."

As he said in an interview with Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro in January, Wheeler repeated the assurance that the FCC order will allow "no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritisation."

Finally, said Wheeler, the open Internet rules place disputes over violations in the hands of the FCC on a case-by-case basis. "This is how you must do this," he said. "That's old-school regulation."

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