“Reports that we are gutting the Open Internet rules are incorrect,” he said at a speech delivered today at the NCTA Cable Show. “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.”
The proposal Wheeler floated last week would allow broadband providers to charge companies extra fees to prioritize their traffic, as long as the broadband providers' terms are “commercially reasonable.”
Many critics quickly pointed out that the proposal would allow Internet service providers to create “fast lanes” for companies willing to pay the tolls. One danger of that plan is that companies that can't afford the tolls -- like startups and nonprofits -- will have a relatively harder time reaching Web users.
For his part, Wheeler said he doesn't “intend to allow innovation to be strangled by the manipulation of the most important network of our time, the Internet.”
He also dismissed the idea that allowing “fast lanes” could harm companies that don't strike deals for prioritized delivery. “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.”
Wheeler also says that the FCC hasn't ruled out reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, which would enable the agency to impose common carrier obligations on ISPs. Telephone companies have long had to follow common carrier rules, which require them to put through all calls without discrimination.
“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,” he writes on the FCC's blog. “Using every power also includes using Title II if necessary. If we get to a situation where arrival of the 'next Google' or the 'next Amazon' is being delayed or deterred, we will act as necessary using the full panoply of our authority.”
But consumer advocates are urging Wheeler to move forward with reclassification now. “If the chairman truly wants to do right by the Internet and avoid losing another costly court battle, he should follow the letter of the Communications Act, exercise the FCC’s clear authority and reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers,” Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. “The future of the open Internet can’t rest on the supposed good intentions of one chairman. Internet users and innovators need the certainty that comes with common carriage, not Wheeler’s ‘just trust me’ approach to stopping harmful behavior from providers.”