FCC Boss Launches Campaign To Defend Net Neutrality Proposal

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is set to launch a campaign Wednesday to defend his embattled net neutrality proposal, seeking to reassure consumers and cable executives alike of his commitment to open internet standards.

In a planned speech, to be delivered at a cable industry convention in Los Angeles, Wheeler is expected to fire back at critics of his proposed net neutrality rules. The move is preceded by a lengthy blog posting on the FCC website in which Wheeler details his stance. It also comes a day after Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) made headlines by criticizing the proposal in a letter to Wheeler.

In his most recent blog post, Wheeler sought to reaffirm his commitment to neutrality standards, going so far as to suggest using the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (specifically Title II) to reclassify Broadband internet providers as common carriers (utilities). Such a move would bring Broadband services under the purview of the Act, and allow regulators to enforce stronger regulations if they become necessary to prevent the multi-layered internet that neutrality advocates fear.

The FCC chief has recently come under fire from supporters of net neutrality for advocating a plan that would allow Internet providers the ability to sell content providers (such as Amazon or Netflix) faster internet speeds for their services. Neutrality advocates fear that this would enable those content providers to then carve out ‘fast lanes’, essentially shutting out newer competitors that would be unable to afford the same services.

Senator Franken, in a letter sent to Wheeler Tuesday, blasted the proposed regulation as “an affront to net neutrality,” saying it had “no place in an online marketplace that values competition and openness.” The Senator, who has recently found himself in headlines for his opposition to the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger, continued to position himself as a strong supporter of neutrality.

“Your proposal would grant Verizon, Comcast, and other ISPs the power to pick winners and losers on the Internet, which violates core Net neutrality principles that you have publicly supported in the past. Although you claim that this proposal is not a ‘turnaround,’ it is difficult to understand how it does not flatly contradict your own Commission’s Open Internet Order.”

-Sen. Al Franken

Wheeler finds himself in a strange position, defending the regulations before they are even made fully public. The current proposal, which will face a preliminary vote on May 15th, comes as the result of a federal appeals court ruling in January that asserted the FCC’s ability to regulate net neutrality issues. Wheeler is scheduled to testify before the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications on May 20th, a hearing which will be closely watched by neutrality advocates from all sides.