FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler denied that he’s trying to divide the Internet into fast and slow lanes in response to a letter sent earlier this week by some of the U.S.’s largest Internet companies.
On Friday, Wheeler responded to a letter he received earlier this week from more than 100 Internet giants and startups who complained about his proposed net neutrality rules, which would allow Internet providers to charge content providers extra for fast lanes to consumer homes.
In the letter, Wheeler said he recently “made clear that if someone acts to divide the Internet between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ I will use every power at our disposal to stop it, including Title II. I will not allow some companies to force Internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service.”
Wheeler, a former lobbyist and venture capitalist, said that his personal experience trying to get carriage on cable providers when running a content provider made him sensitive to the issue of blocking. “I was subject to being blocked from access to cable networks. It is an experience that made me especially wary of the power of closed networks to innovate on their own agenda to the detriment of small entrepreneurs,” he wrote.
“We’re glad to see the chairman reiterating his support for net neutrality,” said Alan Davidson of the New America Foundation, which helped pull the Internet companies’ letter together. “The key question is what this means for the commission’s Open Internet proceeding. We hope it signals real progress toward stronger protections for consumers against discrimination on their Internet connections.”
Wheeler has proposed rules that would bar Internet providers from blocking Internet sites or applications. It would also require Internet providers to be more transparent with consumers about how they are operating their networks. But the proposal has drawn criticism for Wheeler’s plan to allow for prioritized access. He has said that any company that tried to offer such fast-lane service to content companies would come under heavy scrutiny from the FCC and might be barred from doing so.
Consumer groups and net neutrality activists would prefer that Wheeler reclassify or regulate broadband lines under rules written for old phone networks. Internet providers have fought previous efforts to do so. In the letter to the Internet companies, Wheeler promised that the agency will consider “whether Title II or Section 706 of the Communications Act is the best way to address the matter of Internet openness.”
The agency is scheduled to take up Wheeler’s net neutrality proposal on Thursday, despite requests from two FCC commissioners to postpone the vote so they can get more comment from consumers.
Here’s Wheeler’s letter: