Net Neutrality: FCC Chairman Tells Minority Media & Telecom Council He'll Fight, But Cautiously
Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler told the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council (MMTC) -- a national non-profit organization dedicated to preserving civil rights in mass media and closing the digital divide for minorities including Latinos -- that the FCC would find other ways to enforce the Net Neutrality-based Open Internet Order that was discontinued after the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington D.C. struck it down on Tuesday.
The Tuesday ruling sided with Verizon and said that the FCC had no authority to enforce its Open Internet Rules on broadband providers -- rules that, until Tuesday, prevented Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking or discriminating against any lawful content in speed or transmission quality.
In effect, ISPs now have the ability to charge companies and/or customers premiums for service, block or slow down any content or traffic it wants, and/or favor any internet traffic over others (for example, if big websites pay for a "fast-lane").
The FCC's lack of authority stems from a regulatory oversight years ago when the FCC designated ISPs as "information providers" and not "common carriers." The later designation means a company can be regulated more stringently, as landline phone services or public utilities are.
A positive effect of the ruling though: The judge remanded the case back to the FCC though, putting the ball in its court, perhaps to rearrange how it wants to enforce the Open Internet Order on a solid foundation.
Speaking at the MMTC's fifth annual Broadband and Social Justice Summit on Thursday, Wheeler confidently spoke about the opportunity to reshape the rules. "The court invited the commission to act, and I intend to accept that invitation," said Wheeler (via Ars Technica). "Using our authority, we will readdress the concepts in the Open Internet Order, as the court invited, to encourage growth and innovation and enforce against abuse."
Wheeler expressed approval of various ISPs, like Comcast, that pledged not to block internet traffic as the "right and responsible thing to do," and stated that the commission would "take them up on their commitment." However, while Wheeler said he did not want to bar companies from coming up with new agreements that might let ISPs charge content companies (like Netflix, which takes up about a third of all downstream internet traffic in the U.S. every night) for part of the cost of internet transmission, he asserted that the FCC would find ways to preserve the core of the Open Internet rules.
"At the same time, we accept the court's invitation to revisit the structure of the rules that it vacated," said Wheeler. "The great revolution in the Internet is how it empowers individuals to both consume and create. It's the kind of opportunity that we're discussing here this morning, and to do so requires an accessible and Open Internet, and we will fight to preserve that capability."
Wheeler also spoke on why the Open Internet is so important to the future of diversity in business, mass media, and entrepreneurial innovation for minorities, including Latinos. "Never in the life of anyone in this room has there been greater opportunity to exploit the new networks for ownership diversity and content diversity," said Wheeler, hitting the lectern for emphasis. "And that's what makes the Open Internet so... damned... important!"
Wheeler's comments signal a committment to the Open Internet, but also the cautious and open-minded approach he will likely take to reassert some tenets of Net Neutrality to keep the internet operating in the "public interest," while allowing some new business arrangements to take shape, under close watch. It's essentially what he said in his blog post after Tuesday's court decision, just in a much less ambiguous and wordy way.
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