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No Net Neutrality Rules Until 2015 as Disagreements About Plan Continue

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former cable lobbyist, insists he runs an independent agency after the White House offers its plan.

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler won’t unveil his latest proposal for net neutrality until 2015, according to his aides. This comes as they repeated he hasn’t made a decision yet about what to do amid reports he wasn’t convinced President Obama’s plan would work.

Stories indicating Wheeler has already made a decision on net neutrality “are inaccurate,” FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said in an emailed statement after the Washington Post reported the chairman had distanced himself from the White House plan during a meeting with Internet companies and activists Monday.

“No decision has been made,” Hart wrote. “All options remain on the table, including Title II reclassification.” Title II would allow the FCC to regulate broadband providers in a similar way to telephone networks.

Even the hint of disagreement between Wheeler and the White House about net neutrality threatens to isolate the Democratic FCC chairman from other members of his party, who largely cheered President Obama’s public stance Monday. And with Wheeler’s aides saying Wednesday he’ll delay unveiling his next net neutrality proposal until early 2015, that only gives Internet providers and congressional Republicans more time to protest.

AT&T even threatened to halt investment in a new fiber network because of the uncertainty about net neutrality rules. “We think it is prudent to just pause and make sure we have line of sight and understand as to what those rules would look like,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told investors Wednesday.

Meanwhile, congressional Republicans launched an opening salvo in what is expected to be a protracted and ugly fight over the rules, sending a letter Wednesday from 40 members warning the FCC that such rules would be “beyond the scope of the FCC’s authority.” House Republicans scheduled a hearing Dec. 10 about the issue.

Wheeler didn’t endorse the White House plan Monday, saying only that he was “grateful for the input” and was looking forward to hearing from other parties as well, including members of Congress and the public. He has expressed interest in taking a hybrid approach, which would rely on two sections of the law to give the FCC authority to enforce net neutrality rules.

In the wake of the president’s announcement, Wheeler’s aides are planning to ask for more comment on things including how they could craft net neutrality rules for wireless networks and how to “forbear,” or ignore, parts of the Title II which shouldn’t apply to broadband networks, Gigi Sohn, a senior Wheeler aide, said during a radio interview Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the White House double downed on its PR campaign Wednesday morning, publishing a tweet with a link to the president’s net neutrality proposal.

https://twitter.com/WhiteHouse/status/532561702580400128

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.