Wheeler Walks Line on Net Neutrality

First policy speech from new FCC chair supports competition first, but promises to protect "open" Internet and consumer rights to access.

December 3, 2013

2 Min Read
Wheeler Walks Line on Net Neutrality

New Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler is pledging to be pro-competition and to walk that fine line between regulating the Internet and protecting Net Neutrality.

In his first major policy speech Monday in Columbus, Ohio, Wheeler said that "regulating the Internet is a non-starter," but also expressed firm support for maintaining open access to all lawful content and for protecting interconnection of networks comprising the Internet to promote competition.

"What the Internet does is an activity where policy makers must be judiciously prudent and should not be involved," Wheeler said to an audience at his alma mater, Ohio State. "But assuring the Internet exists as a collection of open, interconnected facilities is a highly appropriate subject."

Of course, the real questions will be how the FCC chooses to protect interconnection, and whether it will implement new Net Neutrality rules if the current regs are knocked down in court. Wheeler wasn't offering details in the speech. He did, however, issue an e-book, Net Effects: The Past, Present & Future Impact of Our Networks, which can be downloaded here. (See FCC VoIP Ruling Bound to Disappoint Someone and Bye Bye Net Neutrality?)

Wheeler reiterated his support for unlocking cellphones, saying consumers who keep up their end of the bargain by buying the phone should be able to take it with them to whatever carrier they choose. (See FCC: Unlock or We Regulate.)

Wheeler's speech, which can be viewed here, was also clearly aimed at blunting critics who are expecting a highly active Democratic FCC, promising to not interfere where competition is working, because competitive markets are the best option for consumers. But he also pledged to deliver additional access to spectrum for wireless network operators and boost broadband penetration above the current 80% level to promote economic development and create broadband options for those who don't today have access to wireline broadband services.

Those were goals of his predecessor as well, and there is already healthy skepticism as to whether Wheeler can succeed where Julius Genachowski didn't, at least not entirely.

In an unscientific poll of Light Reading's audience, 44% answered "Tom Who?" to the question of whether they were grateful to have Wheeler at the helm of the FCC, while another 18% said it doesn’t really matter who chairs the FCC. Only 13% said they were grateful to see the former leader of both the cellular and the cable industry associations tapped to run the top US regulatory body.

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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