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Wheeler tells CES what he really thinks of net neutrality

09 Jan, 2015

This week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler spoke at the vast Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. According to The Los Angeles Times, Wheeler “strongly hinted” that his proposed net neutrality rules – to be voted on in late February – would reclassify broadband as a Title II telecommunications service.

Last year, Wheeler proposed net neutrality rules that would continue to regulate broadband as an “information service,” and would have prohibited special deals between ISPs and content providers that were not “commercially reasonable.”

But, as the FCC studied the issue, Wheeler told the CES audience “it became obvious that ‘commercially reasonable’ could be interpreted as what is reasonable for the ISPs not what's reasonable for consumers or innovators. And that's the wrong question and the wrong answer.”

Rather, Wheeler said, the better approach is the “just and reasonable” standard found in Title II of the Communications Act. That standard – which has a long history in the telephone world – would require ISPs that negotiate special deals to make those deals available to everyone that wants them under similar terms and conditions.

Wheeler emphasized that the FCC’s rules would ban blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization against the “just and reasonable” standard.

At the same time, the FCC is expected to forbear from imposing most of Title II - and in particular rate regulation – on broadband. In light of Wheeler's remarks, the debate has now shifted to how broadly the FCC will forbear in its forthcoming rules, and how it will deal with wireless Internet, which some say has never been subject to Title II regulation.

Opponents of Title II reclassification are looking to Congress. According to the National Journal, the new Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) is “... working on a compromise bill that he says would address the concerns of net-neutrality advocates without invoking utility-style powers.”

The top Democrat on the committee, Bill Nelson (D-FL), refused to commit to Thune’s approach. But, “Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid vowed this week that any attempt to weaken net neutrality would be ‘met with a swift and unified Democratic opposition’.”

CES 2015: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler tips his hand on net neutrality (LA Times, Jan. 7, 2015)
 
Republicans Are Desperate for a Net-Neutrality Compromise (National Journal, Jan. 8, 2015)

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