FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
Facing a House Small Business Committee focused on the Federal Communciations Commission's next moves on Wednesday, Chairman Tom Wheeler
made encouraging noises
about net neutrality.
Wheeler spoke in front a committee during a session aimed at determining whether the FCC was responding to the needs of small business and rural America. When asked by Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., about the repercussions of Title II, Wheeler said the FCC is trying to protect "the virtuous cycle" of innovation spurred by the Internet.
"Activities like blocking or choosing one provider, fast lanes, degrading a service…all interfere with virtuous cycle," Wheeler said. "Do we use 706 authority or do we use Title II? We have asked for input on the Title II question. Title II is very much on the table."
Wheeler also told Rep. Tom Rice, R-S.C., who expressed concern over Title II, that balancing the needs of small business with that of the larger telecom companies is a challenge.
"It's clear that there must be an open Internet," Wheeler told Rice. "That's what's necessary for small businesses, entrepreneurs and consumers. But communications carriers are investing $60 billion a year in infrastructure and we have to have that. We don't want to put in rules in place that would disincentivize companies from making that kind of continued investment."
Section 706 is the part of the 1996 Telecom Act that addresses broadband technology. The argument that it is sufficient to continue to do so is pretty much bunk. At least, that's what the court that threw out the FCC's previous net neutrality approach—using the 706 authority—determined
. The court basically said that since the FCC says that broadband providers are "information services" instead of common carriers, any attempt to regulate them as common carriers under 706 won't be recognized under the law. The alternative, pointed out pretty baldly by the court, is to reclassify ISPs as providers of "telecommunications services."
But here's a simpler reason to explain how weak the FCC's 706 authority really is: AT&T just filed a 99-page comment with the FCC begging them to stick with Section 706. And its promises to be really, really good if the FCC does go with the weakest regulatory options available are worth about as much as the pixels they're written on.
It's good that Wheeler had to appear before a congressional committee to answer these questions. It's also good that Wheeler hasn't taken Title II reclassification off the table. But if he really wants to make the best decision for the American people on net neutrality, he has to get out of DC and talk to them.
Sign and send the petition to the FCC demanding the Chairman come out and face the public support for real net neutrality.
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