FCC Chair Defends Net Neutrality Plans30 Apr, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey
Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has come out in defense of draft net neutrality rules currently before the commission, calling recent speculation that the FCC rules would kill the idea of the open Internet “misinformed interpretation.”
Wheeler said the new rules would require all Internet service providers (ISPs) to be transparent about their network policies with subscribers, would not allow ISPs to block any legal content to subscribers and would restrict ISPs from acting “in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.”
“First, this is not a final decision by the commission but rather a formal request for input on a proposal as well as a set of related questions,” Wheeler wrote in a blog post. “Second, as the notice makes clear, all options for protecting and promoting an open Internet are on the table.”
The FCC’s net neutrality regulations were struck down Jan. 14 by the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, with the court ruling that the FCC didn’t have the authority to regulate how the Internet is delivered to consumers.
Wheeler said the court laid out a blueprint for the FCC, in that it could use a portion of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 “to create open Internet rules that would stick," and “I have repeatedly stated that I viewed the court’s ruling as an invitation that I intended to accept,” Wheeler said.
“At the heart of the proposed [notice of proposed rule making] is the assurance that it won’t be possible for an Internet provider to degrade the service available to all,” he wrote. “Let me re-emphasize that: The Internet will remain like it is today, an open pathway. If a broadband provider (ISP) acts in a manner that keeps users from effectively taking advantage of that pathway then it should be a violation of the open Internet rules.”
However, net neutrality advocates are pointing out that the proposed rules have a caveat that allows ISPs to make companies such as Netflix pay for better service, as long as it’s “commercially reasonable.” Netflix has already grudgingly agreed to pay both Comcast and Verizon interconnection fees, to ensure its subscribers have a smooth streaming experience.
“But what happens when what one company considers ‘commercially reasonable’ is not considered so by another?” wrote Clarissa Ramon with Public Knowledge, a nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based public interest group. “Will this guideline work favorably for some companies who can afford to negotiate and not others? What are the implications for startup communities? How can harm to companies and consumers be measured under these rules?”
Wheeler wrote that the proposed rules encourage ISPs to continually upgrade service to customers, and that degrading service to customers “to force consumers and content companies to a higher-priced tier” would not be allowed. Neither would ISPs be allowed to provide better service to their own content over content they don’t own.
“In other words, the Internet will remain an open pathway,” he wrote. “If broadband providers would seek to use the commercially reasonable test as justification of activities in which users can’t effectively use that pathway, or the capabilities of it are degraded, I suggest they save their breath since such conduct would be a violation of the open Internet rules we propose.
“If anyone acts to degrade the service for all for the benefit of a few, I intend to use every available power to stop it.”
One of those options, Wheeler said, would be to reclassify ISPs as common carriers, making them susceptible to the government regulation like any other basic telecommunications service.
Craig Aaron, president and CEO of public media and technology advocacy group Free Press, said the proposed rules don’t do enough to protect the end consumers, and instead are “aiding and abetting the largest ISPs in their efforts to destroy the open Internet.”
“Giving ISPs the green light to implement pay-for-priority schemes will be a disaster for startups, nonprofits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls,” he said. “These users will all be pushed onto the Internet dirt road, while deep-pocketed Internet companies enjoy the benefits of the newly created fast lanes.”
Wheeler is set to discuss the net neutrality rules proposal May 20 before the U.S. House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.