FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Defends His Net Neutrality Proposal

Today, in a speech at the Silicon Flatirons Center in Boulder, Colorado, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler gave a detailed defense of his net neutrality plan. His proposed set of regulations concerning the open Internet will come to a vote before the Commission on the 26th of this month.

Since the Chairman unveiled the broad strokes of his plan last week, he has come under fire for being, roughly, either a puppet dancing on the strings of the President, or, someone who is the Physical Embodiment of government run amok, out to cut the legs off of both Internet innovation and investment into the core physical mesh that constitutes the Web.

Poppycock, to summarize, is Wheeler’s response to his critics.

Digging into his remarks — the full text can be found here — let’s take a few sections as both argumentatively interesting, and funny.

To begin, here is Wheeler responding to criticism that many businesses were able to get started online, and challenge incumbents, before any sort of net neutrality protection was in place [Emphasis: TechCrunch]:

Now, before the ISP surrogates rush into hyperdrive pointing out how Pandora, HuffPo and others were able to get access, let’s listen to the words of a major ISP suggesting it might not always be that way. When Verizon was asked in open court if they wanted to restrict access through special commercial terms, their counsel replied, “I am authorized to state by my client today that but for these rules we would be exploring those commercial arrangements.”

That explodes the argument that, due simply to the fact that the Internet has mostly operated on the core ‘no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization’ rules that constitute a bulk of Wheeler’s proposal, that we do not need net neutrality regulations now. Verizon, it seems, put the petard avant le hoist.

Next up is Wheeler pushing back on the folks who are casting aspersions on his proposed use of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 to regulate broadband [Emphasis: TechCrunch]:

The precedent of earlier FCC rules assuring an open phone network made it clear that the yardstick for network management should be based on Title II of the Communications Act — the same test that had worked to deliver the dawn of the Internet. That is why I am proposing the FCC use a modernized version of its Title II authority to implement and enforce open Internet protections.

Allow me to emphasize that word “modernized” as the descriptor for Title II. We have heard endless repetition of the talking point that “Title II is old-style, 1930’s monopoly regulation.” It’s a good soundbite, but it is misleading when used to describe the modernized version of Title II that I’m proposing.

And finally, a Spider Man joke [Emphasis: TechCrunch]:

For the first time, open Internet protections would apply equally to both wired and wireless networks. Wireless networks account for 55 percent of Internet usage. For those to whom much is given, much is also expected — especially including an open network.

Wheeler also tackles municipal broadband, security, the need for faster broadband, and competition at the local level among ISPs. Often there is none. The speech appears to be something of explanatory manifesto of the Chairman’s thinking. It will be interesting to see what, if any impact, Wheeler’s words have on the arguments of his intellectual and policy foes.

Thinking more simply, the vote is in 15 days. Consider these the closing words of the first chapter.