FCC's Wheeler defends net neutrality proposal

The FCC's still-unseen "Open Internet" proposed rules that represent the agency's third try to craft net neutrality regulations have come under enormous criticism even before they've been formally unveiled. Media reports have suggested that the FCC would allow ISPs to create "fast lanes" for content companies willing to pay, subject to a still-nebulous "commercially reasonable" standard. Consumer advocates fear that would undercut a core principle of net neutrality--that users should get equal access to all content regardless of where it comes from--and that it could stifle innovation and increase costs for consumers.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, ahead of a speech he is going to deliver to cable executives gathered in Los Angeles for The Cable Show, strongly defended his proposed changes. In a new blog post, Wheeler notes that the proposed rules are not the final say on the issue but "are a formal request for input on a proposal as well as a set of related questions" and that "all options for protecting and promoting an Open Internet are on the table."

Wheeler wrote that he is simply responding to a January federal appeals court decision that largely struck down the FCC's last attempt to craft net neutrality rules. Wheeler hopes to put new rules in place by the end of the year. Wheeler also wrote that "there has been a great deal of discussion about how our proposal to follow the court's roadmap will result in a so-called 'fast lane' and Internet 'haves' and 'have-nots.' This misses the point." The point, he wrote, is that the rules are designed to "to ensure that everyone has access to an Internet that is sufficiently robust to enable  consumers to access the content, services and applications they demand, as well as an Internet that offers innovators and edge providers the ability to offer new products and services."

Wheeler wrote that "something that harms consumers is not commercially reasonable. For instance, degrading service in order to create a new 'fast lane' would be shut down." Wheeler also said he is still keeping the option open of classifying broadband as a Title II common-carrier service, which would make it subject to stricter regulation. For more on Wheeler's stance, check out this FierceTelecom article.

Meanwhile, in FierceOnlineVideo, Sam Bookman notes that Netflix's (NASDAQ: NFLX) recent moves to pay Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) and now Verizon (NYSE: VZ) for better access to their broadband subscribers could set a worrying precedent just as the FCC crafts its new net neutrality rules. However, she argues that the hard fact is that to remain a dominant online video player, Netflix has to do business this way and that the Internet hasn't been truly neutral for some time, as many companies are already paying to get their traffic through ahead of others.

Bookman notes: "The risk here, of course, is continued innovation. Will allowing ISPs to give preferential treatment to those who pay for it cause a chill in the IP video delivery market? There are no certainties." Editor's Corner