FCC chairman Tom Wheeler took the stage at the Cable Show 2014 to keep up his PR campaign defending the commission’s revised net neutrality regulations — and put cable operators on notice that he’ll act swiftly to stop any Internet service providers that abuse the principles of an open Internet.
“Let me be clear: If someone acts to divide the Internet between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ we will use every power at our disposal to stop it,” Wheeler said. “I want to specifically direct these remarks to you, the principal providers of the nation’s broadband connectivity.”
Wheeler has come under fire from a range of critics who believe the so-called “fast lane” provision of the new rules will stymie competition and give ISPs free rein to discriminate against content providers.
According to Wheeler, those who have objected to the new net-neutrality rules don’t understand them, and he reiterated his complaint that reports have misconstrued the FCC’s plans.
“If you read some of the press accounts about what we propose to do, those of you who oppose net neutrality might feel like a celebration was in order,” he told the Cable Show attendees. But “reports that we are gutting the Open Internet rules are incorrect. I am here to say ‘wait a minute.’ Put away the party hats. The Open Internet rules will be tough, enforceable and, with the concurrence of my colleagues, in place with dispatch.”
In January, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned key portions of the FCC’s previous Open Internet order, including those prohibiting ISPs from blocking content and barring them from “unreasonable” discrimination in delivering content. Wheeler noted that the court found that “broadband providers represent a threat to Internet openness” and have “incentives to interfere” with competitors.
“The focus of this proposal… is on maintaining a broadly available, fast and robust Internet as a platform for economic growth, innovation, competition, free expression, and broadband investment and deployment,” Wheeler said. “Our goal is rules that will encourage broadband providers to continually upgrade service to all. We will follow the court’s blueprint for achieving this and, I must warn you, will look skeptically on special exceptions.”
Wheeler underscored that he’s considering all options to ensure an open Internet — including reclassifying broadband under Title II regulations of the Communications Act as a telecommunication service if need be. (Currently, the Internet access is essentially unregulated as an “information service.”) “Just because it is my strong belief that following the court’s road map will produce similar protections more quickly does not mean I will hesitate to use Title II if warranted,” he said.
He also said competition is vital for broadband to continue to thrive, calling out AT&T’s announced plans to deploy 1-gigabit-per-second networks in 100 communities and Cox Communications’ announcement that it expects to provide 1-Gbps Internet speeds later this year.
“When it comes to broadband, cable has… very limited regulation,” he said. “The only way to maintain this situation is for (operators) to uphold your responsibilities.”