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FCC Chairman clarifies Open Internet Proposed Rulemaking
Posted: 01-May-2014 [Source: Federal Communications Commission]

[FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler, spoke yesterday to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and put forward his views regarding proposed "Open Internet" rules. Here is the text of his talk...]

Los Angeles -- Remarks of Tom Wheeler, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission

It’s great to be with you, and great to be in L.A. I had originally intended to open this with some light banter about being back here. But there is a serious issue that I want to address right away – the future of the Internet. I want to specifically direct these remarks to you, the nation’s largest providers of broadband connectivity.

We have circulated a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to my fellow commissioners on the topic of the Open Internet. There are two things that are important to understand. First, this is a Notice, which asks a number of questions and seeks input on the best way to protect and promote the Open Internet. Second, all options are on the table. Our goal is to put into place real protections for consumers, innovators and entrepreneurs that until now have been only a matter of debate and litigation. I believe this process will put us on track to quickly get to legally enforceable Open Internet rules.

I am interested in results. The Commission has been trying to do something for almost a decade, starting, in fact, when Michael Powell was Chairman. It’s time for this job to be finished. We have been waiting long enough.

Because cable has become a principal provider of broadband, this is an appropriate forum to discuss our intentions. 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. 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.

For all the millions of Americans who access the Internet, and to you who provide broadband connectivity, it is only fair to spell out some expectations that will inform the proposed Open Internet rules on which we are seeking public comment.

The D.C. Circuit in the Verizon v. FCC decision upheld the Commission’s judgment that, “absent such rules such as those set forth in the Open Internet Order, broadband providers represent a threat to Internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment.”

I believe that innovation is fragile and that, as we said in our 2010 Order, broadband providers have “incentives to interfere” with competing edge-providers and, as the D.C. Circuit wrote, have, “powerful incentives to accept fees from edge providers, either in return for excluding their competitors or for granting them prioritized access to end users.”

Our proposed course of action builds on the court’s strong legal justification for regulation that guarantees every user the ability to effectively use the Internet. We are beyond the question of the scope of the FCC’s authority; the court has decided that. Knowing that authority, we now must move expeditiously to make it manifest.

There has been a great deal of talk about how our following the court’s instruction to use a “commercially reasonable” test could result in a so-called “fast lane” and Internet “haves” and “have nots.” This misses the point that any new rule will assure an open pathway that is sufficiently robust to enable consumers to access the content, services and applications they demand and innovators and edge providers the ability to offer new products and services.

Put another way, the focus of this proposal – on which we are seeking comment – 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. 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.

In the 30 years since I last stood on this stage I have built new technology-based companies as an entrepreneur, and helped other companies grow as a venture capitalist. I know in my bones how hard it is to start a company with innovative ideas. Now, as Chairman of the FCC, I do not intend to allow innovation to be strangled by the manipulation of the most important network of our time, the Internet.

As an entrepreneur and as an investor, I understand the importance of supplying businesses with certainty. That's another reason why the sooner we can get enforceable rules in place, the better off everyone will be. Internet entrepreneurs and those who support them need the certain knowledge that their ability to get to market will not be degraded by manipulation of the 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. I consider that to include Title II. Just because it is my strong belief that following the court’s roadmap will produce similar protections more quickly, does not mean I will hesitate to use Title II if warranted. And, in our Notice, we are asking for input as to whether this approach should be used.

Since we are in Los Angeles, let me use a highway traffic metaphor. Prioritizing some traffic by forcing the rest of the traffic into a congested lane won’t be permitted under any proposed Open Internet rule. We will not allow some companies to force Internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service.

Consumers have rightfully come to expect quality access to all points on the Internet. Blocking access to lawful content and services would be inconsistent with the transaction that made them your subscribers.

The bottom line on the proposed Open Internet rules is that the Internet will remain an open pathway. If users can’t effectively use the pathway then the conduct will be a violation of the Open Internet rules.

I do not expect this debate to end today and I don’t want it to. We are moving quickly to tee up the issues and invite discussion and debate. Let’s move this process forward.

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