FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: Time To Update Communications Act, Preserve Net Neutrality

By All Access

Citing ABRAHAM LINCOLN’s quote, “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew,” FCC Chairman TOM WHEELER told an audience at the UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO LAW SCHOOL’s SILICON FLATIRONS CENTER FOR LAW, TECHNOLOGY AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP that changes in technology compel the Commission to review and update the Communications Act and that the Commission has the authority to enforce net neutrality.

WHEELER said, “changes in technology, business models, and consumer preferences have presented us with circumstances that are radically different from those that prevailed a generation ago. With widespread deployment of digital technology and high-speed broadband networks, wired and wireless have led us to an environment we could not have imagined when our communications laws were written. This undoubtedly is true for the 1934 Communications Act, but it also is true even for the significant amendments that have been enacted in the last two decades.”

WHEELER said that in its CHEVRON decision, the SUPREME COURT had set the precedent that “courts should defer to a government agency when it comes to the interpretation of a statute that agency is charged with enforcing.” “Given the dynamism of the technology sector,” WHEELER asserted, “the FCC must exercise its lawful discretion to interpret the Communications Act to meet contemporary circumstances. In other words, internet speed means that even a new Telecommunications Act will be out of date the moment it is signed. The only way to deal with this reality is to have an expert agency capable of being as nimble as the innovators redefining technology and re-drawing the marketplace. We will behave that way today, and any new Act must preserve that nimbleness going forward.”

Dismissing the argument that the Commission is exceeding its authority in regulating net neutrality, WHEELER cited the U.S. Court of Appeals’ VERIZON decision as “invit(ing) the Commission to act to preserve a free and open Internet. I accept that invitation, and in the coming days, I will be outlining how I propose to proceed.” He insisted that based on the court ruling, “the preservation of an open Internet is within the FCC’s authority. Bigger picture, the FCC has the authority it needs to provide what the public needs – open, competitive, safe, and accessible broadband networks. Indeed, that we have authority is well-settled. What remains open is not jurisdiction, but rather the best path to securing the public interest.”

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