FCC Chairman throws weight behind net neutrality

The controversy recapped

In several November, 2014 blogs I described how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are putting pressure on the FCC and Congress to abandon the current principle of treating all data on the Internet equally. They want a new framework that would include–

A ‘multi-level’ Internet, in which there are different charges and, potentially (though they deny it) even control of content for users, sites, platforms, and applications; and Lower costs for those who can afford it, e.g., big companies, would pay more for better/faster service with most individual users on a lower tier of speed/support.

Opinion polls and four million public comments in 2014 revealed that the vast majority of Americans support net neutrality. And in November, President Obama came out strongly in support of maintaining an open Internet, urging the Federal Communications Commission to implement “the strongest possible rules” to protect it, putting the spotlight on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to see if would do the same.

Wheeler’s new proposal

Many prognosticators pointed to Wheeler’s past history as a cable and cellphone industry lobbyist as evidence that he might buck the President. They were wrong. Last week, he released the outline of a dramatically new net neutrality plan. It would make broadband a more utility, one that would ban paid prioritization or any other costly interconnection fees–thereby supporting net neutrality. The full document is only available to the other five FCC members. It will come to a vote during a February 26th open meeting.

Excerpts from Wheeler’s statement include the following–

1. “The proposal I present to the commission will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future, for all Americans.”
2. “(While) broadband network operators have an understandable motivation to manage their network to maximize their business interests…their actions may not always be optimal for network users. Over the years, the Commission has used this authority to the public’s great benefit.”
3. “The internet wouldn’t have emerged as it did…if the FCC hadn’t mandated open access for network equipment in the late 1960s. Before then, AT&T prohibited anyone from attaching non-AT&T equipment to the network. The modems that enabled the internet were usable only because the FCC required the network to be open.”
4. “I propose to fully apply (these rules) to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”
5. “To preserve incentives for broadband operators to invest in their networks, my proposal will modernize Title II, tailoring it for the 21st century, in order to provide returns necessary to construct competitive networks. For example, there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling. 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.”
6. “Congress wisely gave the FCC the power to update its rules to keep pace with innovation. Under that authority, my proposal includes a general conduct rule that can be used to stop new and novel threats to the internet. This means the action we take will be strong enough and flexible enough not only to deal with the realities of today, but also to establish ground rules for the as yet unimagined.”

Next week I’ll discuss how critics view Wheeler’s proposal and what they plan to do about it.