BARCELONA -- Mobile World Congress -- Ever since the FCC decided to reclassify US broadband service as a Title II telecom service over both fixed broadband lines and mobile networks, the question that both supporters and dissenters have been asking is, how will this historic move be carried out?
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler used his keynote address, an interview with GSM Association (GSMA) Director General Anne Bouverot, to defend the Commission's controversial decision. Asked how it would play out in different scenarios, Wheeler said it would be on a case-by-case basis guided not by a regulatory structure, but by a "referee with a yard stick."
"There needs to be a referee with a yard stick -- or meter stick, here -- that says, wait a minute, is that unreasonable?... That's the structure we put in place," he said. "It's not a regulatory structure, but a structure to say, 'Do we have a set of rules that says activities are just and reasonable and someone can throw the flag if it is not.' "
Without shedding much additional light, Wheeler reiterated that the new rules don't thwart innovation, but only outline four stipulations: no traffic blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization and transparency. Overarching it all is, he said, is "what is just and reasonable?" The FCC will assess this based on a "long established theory of what it means" and, again, on a case-by-case basis.
Bouverot threw out one such example, noting that in other regions like Latin America and India, governments or social enterprises want to offer sponsored services free to consumers. She asked if this would be allowed under the new rules, a question that Wheeler largely dodged.
"What's the impact on consumers, edge providers and public interest that gets served? There are no broad stroke regulations on how you will do it," he said, adding that there are only those four regulations plus the yard stick.
Wheeler also pointed out that Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), T-Mobile US Inc. , Google Fiber Inc. and a number of smaller operators said they could innovate under the new regulations. And Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), which has had a very public problem with the rules, paid $4.5 billion in the recent C-block auction, knowing one of the terms was it had to abide by the new Open Internet order. That, he said, is evidence the world believes it's possible to have an open Internet without tariffing and to build a competitive network without tariffing. (See Sprint CTO Blesses a Light Touch of Title II.)
"Let's be clear: This is no more regulating the Internet than the First Amendment regulates free speech in our country," he asserted, repeating an argument he made right before the FCC's vote last Thursday.
— Sarah Thomas, , Editorial Operations Director, Light Reading