CES 2015: FCC's Wheeler Stirs Net Neutrality Pot - InformationWeek

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1/8/2015
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CES 2015: FCC's Wheeler Stirs Net Neutrality Pot

Agency chairman hints at plans to side with Obama, reclassify broadband as a utility.

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to redefine how wired and wireless networks are regulated by the government. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler tipped his hand during a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show this week, suggesting the laws of Title II, which regulates telecom companies as utilities, are the best way forward. Wheeler's plan may be popular with consumer advocates and other net neutrality supporters, but network operators are surely preparing for all-out war with the government.

Verizon is largely responsible for putting the FCC on its current path. The FCC defined broadband rules in 2010 and made them law. Verizon, ignoring the pleas of its peers, challenged the FCC with a lawsuit and eventually overturned those rules. The FCC was forced to regroup.

At first the FCC thought it could use Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to establish rules governing broadband. Its goal was to define a "commercially reasonable" way to regulate the industry. "It became obvious that 'commercially reasonable' could be interpreted as what is reasonable for the ISPs, not what is reasonable for the consumers or innovators. And that's the wrong question and the wrong answer," said Wheeler during an interview with the Consumer Electronics Association's Gary Shapiro.

So the FCC decided to take a new path. "Last summer, we began investigating various approaches using Title II as a way to get to a just and reasonable [standard], because it has the best protections."

[Having trouble describing net neutrality? So is everyone else. See Net Neutrality: Wellspring Of Terrible Analogies.]

President Barack Obama published his own thoughts on the matter in November. "We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. That is why I am asking the FCC to answer the call of almost 4 million public comments, and implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality," said Obama at the time. "The Internet has been one of the greatest gifts our economy -- and our society -- has ever known. The FCC was chartered to promote competition, innovation, and investment in our networks. In service of that mission, there is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet."

Tom Wheeler 
(FCC image)
Tom Wheeler
(FCC image)

In other words, Obama is in favor of classifying broadband as a utility, which would impose strict regulation over the industry. It appears as though Wheeler is prepared to move forward with exactly this plan.

This is not going to make the industry happy. The CTIA, which lobbies for the wireless industry's interests in Washington, has already made its position clear. "Imposing antiquated common-carrier regulation on the vibrant mobile wireless ecosystem would be a gross overreaction that would impose inappropriate regulation on a dynamic industry and would threaten mobile providers' ability to invest and innovate, all to the detriment of consumers. CTIA strongly opposes such an approach," said the organization in November.

Earlier this month, Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives said they are exploring all possible options to fight Obama's Title II push.

The FCC will publish its rules on Feb. 5 and vote on them at its open meeting on Feb. 26. Once it does, the fireworks are really going to begin.

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Eric is a freelance writer for InformationWeek specializing in mobile technologies. View Full Bio

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Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Author
1/10/2015 | 7:43:00 PM
Re: Don't see any problem
@hho927 I discovered the way to lower electricity bills in summer was to switch to units. It wasn't a planned thing. When our central system stopped working, we learned it would take $6000 to repair. It costs less than $1500 to get the units needed. And our electric bills never shot up to $500 a month since then.
Ariella
50%
50%
Ariella,
User Rank: Author
1/9/2015 | 4:19:15 PM
Re: Don't see any problem
@hho927 but how much is too much? Where is the line drawn, and who draws it?
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