FCC chair Wheeler pushes network neutrality regulation

8 January 2014 by Steve Blum
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If he sees a foul, Wheeler is ready to throw a flag.

Tom Wheeler, the new chairman of the FCC, left no doubt today that he intends to enforce network neutrality rules. Speaking at CES, he made it clear that the FCC will play a central role in regulating the relationship between Internet service providers and their customers.

The first question is exactly how much power the FCC has to regulate the way Internet service is delivered. A federal appeals is considering that question now, a lower court having thrown out network neutrality rules – called the open Internet order – previously approved by the FCC. Wheeler believes the authority exists. “We have the capacity and the jurisdiction to intervene”, he said.

“The open Internet order was drafted in a way that encouraged innovation, but said you won’t screw up the operation of the Internet, you won’t act in anti-competitive ways, you won’t act in preferential ways”, he said. “The open Internet order makes it clear that if there are untoward things impacting access to the internet…then the commission should move”.

Something would be untoward – and trigger FCC action – “if it adversely affects the relationship between the network and the people who use it”, Wheeler said. “We need to encourage innovation and keep a watchful eye and be willing to intervene when the network compact is violated”. The network compact being “the relationship between the network and the people who use it”.

He declined to give any specifics of what form that intervention might take, instead saying it was up to the industry to make the first move. “If there’s voluntary activity, the agency doesn’t have much to do, but it can go the other way”.