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April 30, 2014

FCC’s Wheeler Says Internet Will Remain Open

Despite Critics, FCC Chairman Defends Agency's Position

The preservation of an Open Internet is a top priority for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), says its chairman.

Tom Wheeler took to his blog this week to deny rumors that began circulating last week that the FCC was prepared to support “fast lanes” on the Internet for broadband providers.

Reports in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times suggested the agency was prepared to allow Disney, Google, Netflix and other such companies to pay broadband providers like Comcast for faster “lanes” to get their content to customers.

“The regulations could radically reshape how Internet content is delivered to consumers,” the Times report stated. “For example, if a gaming company cannot afford the fast track to players, customers could lose interest and its product could fail.”

Wheeler, however, says the publications “had a misinformed interpretation of the Open Internet Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) currently before the Commission.”

“I do not believe we should leave the market unprotected for multiple more years while lawyers for the biggest corporate players tie the FCC’s protections up in court,” Wheeler said the blog post.

“Notwithstanding this, all regulatory options remain on the table. If the proposal before us now turns out to be insufficient or if we observe anyone taking advantage of the rule, I won’t hesitate to use Title II. However, unlike with Title II, we can use the court’s roadmap to implement Open Internet regulation now rather than endure additional years of litigation and delay.”

The FCC has been criticized for “relaxing” its stance on Net neutrality by considering permitting streaming video providers top-tier network access if “commercially reasonable” arrangements can be made.

One of the FCC’s chief critics is Minnesota Sen. Al Franken. The outspoken Democrat, in a letter, argued the FCC’s proposal would destroy an open Internet.

“I am deeply disappointed that you are considering rules that would allow deep-pocketed companies to pay for preferential access to Internet Service Providers,” Franken wrote. “Pay-to-play deals are an affront to net neutrality and have no place in an online marketplace that values competition and openness. This proposal would create an online ‘fast lane’ for the highest bidder—shutting out small businesses and increasing costs for consumers. I strongly urge you to reconsider this misguided approach and recommit to protecting the Open Internet for all Americans.”

He added that the Internet was funded by taxpayers “to benefit the public interest. It belongs to all of us. The FCC should be working to sustain competition and consumer benefits, not creating unnecessary tolls for businesses and consumers.”

While critics like Fraken say such a policy would be the death of a free and open Internet, Wheeler said the plan will “ensure that everyone has access to an Internet that is sufficiently robust to enable consumers to access the content, services and applications they demand, as well as an Internet that offers  innovators and edge providers the ability to offer new products and services.”

He said any deal that would be detrimental to consumers, create exclusive network services or threaten competition and free speech would not be permitted.

“Our goal is rules that will encourage broadband providers to continually upgrade service to all,” Wheeler said. “We will follow the court’s blueprint, and I must warn you, we will look skeptically on special exceptions.”

He listed the following items as not “commercially reasonable” on the Internet:

  • Something that harms consumers is not commercially reasonable. For instance, degrading service in order to create a new “fast lane” would be shut down.
  • Something that harms competition is not commercially reasonable. For instance, degrading overall service so as to force consumers and content companies to a higher priced tier would be shut down.
  • Providing exclusive, prioritized service to an affiliate is not commercially reasonable. For instance, a broadband provider that also owns a sports network should not be able to give a commercial advantage to that network over another competitive sports network wishing to reach viewers over the Internet.
  • Something that curbs the free exercise of speech and civic engagement is not commercially reasonable. For instance, if the creators of new Internet content or services had to seek permission from ISPs or pay special fees to be seen online such action should be shut down.

“In other words, the Internet will remain an open pathway,” he said. “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.”


Jennifer Cowan is the Managing Editor for SiteProNews.