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FCC chairman denies he's killing network neutrality

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

Tom Wheeler, President Obama's choice to lead the Federal Communications Commission, is disputing charges that his latest open internet regulations will gut network neutrality. According to the New York Times, Wheeler will give a speech at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association convention today telling net neutrality opponents to "put away the party hats."

"The open internet rules will be tough, enforceable, and, with the concurrence of my colleagues, in place with dispatch," Wheeler insists.

In January, the DC Circuit Appeals Court struck down network neutrality rules that Wheeler's predecessor had crafted in 2010. The court ruling limited Wheeler's options, because it meant that only weak network neutrality regulations were guaranteed to be accepted by the courts. Those rules allow broadband ISPs to discriminate, but only if doing so was "commercially reasonable." That phrase hasn't been clearly defined by the courts, but liberals fear that in practice it will be a green light for ISPs to violate network neutrality.

Some network neutrality supporters have urged Wheeler to take the bolder step of declaring broadband a "telecommunications service," a legal category that gives the FCC broader regulatory authority. But that step would be controversial, and it could lead to more years of litigation. Wheeler decided it was better to get weak network neutrality rules in place quickly than to risk years of further uncertainty in pursuit of stronger rules.

But Wheeler says he will use stronger medicine if necessary. "If someone acts to divide the Internet between haves and have-nots, we will use every power at our disposal to stop it," Wheeler says. That includes re-classifying broadband as a telecommunication service, a procedure known to telecom insiders as "Title II."

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