FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: Agency has the authority to preserve open Internet

Daily Camera
By Alicia Wallace, Camera Business Writer

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler on Monday reasserted that his agency has the authority to preserve the open Internet and will take active steps to do so.

But on the eve of his 100th day as FCC chief, Wheeler stopped a few steps shy of fully disclosing his agency’s plan of action following a recent landmark court ruling affecting open Internet laws.

Wheeler on Monday delivered the closing keynote speech at a two-day telecommunications law conference hosted by the University of Colorado’s Silicon Flatirons Center for Law, Technology and Entrepreneurship.

The speech came just weeks after a federal appeals court struck down portions of the FCC’s net neutrality provisions that were aimed at equal treatment of Internet traffic.

In a case brought by Verizon Wireless against the FCC, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled 2-1 that the FCC overstepped its bounds by imposing regulations on service providers and basing those regulations on existing common carrier obligations.

The ruling could result in broadband providers charging “edge providers” such as YouTube and Google to deliver priority services. Net neutrality activists have expressed concerns that providers may selectively slow or block websites that did not pay fees.

The court did recognize that the FCC has “general authority to regulate.”

Highlighting that remark, Wheeler said Monday that the judges’ ruling supports the FCC’s ability to govern and protect the open Internet.

“The preservation of an open Internet is within the FCC’s authority,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler asserted that the FCC needs to be nimble as it approaches regulating a dynamic and constantly evolving broadband landscape.

“(The new circumstances of the Internet and broadband) demand that we must act anew,” Wheeler said, referencing a quote from President Abraham Lincoln. “We can’t just kick the can down the road. We have an obligation to act now.”

Wheeler also indicated that path might include case-by-case enforcement, reiterating a position made at the end of January.

“We will act when the record warrants and the public interest demands,” he said.

He referred to the rise and quick evolution of broadband Internet as the “fourth great network revolution,” noting the printing press railroad and telegraph.

“Each of them redefined the path of humanity,” he said. “We should expect no different in our experience.”

Wheeler said he plans to outline his agency’s next steps in regards to net neutrality in the coming days.

Philip J. Weiser, dean of CU’s Law School, said Wheeler’s comments Monday seem to indicate that the commissioner views the Verizon ruling as a positive development in that it provides the FCC with the freedom to act nimbly and effectively.

“It sounds like this case is not going to go to the Supreme Court,” Weiser said.

Contact Camera Business Writer Alicia Wallace at 303-473-1332 or wallacea@dailycamera.com

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