Net Neutrality: During Congressional Beatdown FCC’s Wheeler Hints at Banning “Fast Lanes”
Chairman of the Federal Communications Tom Wheeler faced bipartisan criticism Tuesday during a hearing before the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee over the FCC’s plan to regulate the internet. Yet, even though both Republicans and Democrats asked critical questions, they remained on opposite sides of the issue.
At hand is a proposal that many Democrats fear would lead to a system of paid prioritization that would give established, moneyed companies a leg up over internet upstarts that could become the next YouTube or Twitter. Conversely, Republicans fear that any regulation at all would tarnish the record thus far of “light touch” regulation of the internet in America.
Both sides have valid points. Currently, the FCC serves at the pleasure of the Obama Administration which, at least publicly, is on the side of a free and equal internet. They see the regulatory arm of the FCC as a “watchdog” against internet service providers being the “gatekeepers” of the internet. However, future administrations may not share that ideal and could subvert that regulatory power into the very thing it seeks to protect against.
Still telecommunications companies are not to be trusted either, a former monopoly that seems all too eager to reform. Which is why Wheeler seemed to indicate during his testimony that he was against paid prioritization calling it “commercially unreasonable under [the FCC’s] proposal.” Wheeler’s reluctance to explicitly condemn it could have been in deference to the current open comment period about this very issue.
In other bad news for Wheeler, Bloomberg reports that a pair of “House Democrats used [Wheeler’s] appearance before Congress [Tuesday] to call for hearings” into the respective mergers of Time Warner Cable and Comcast and AT&T and DirectTV. A Republican even got in on the fun asking if “we are soon going to be calling him Mr. Wheeler Dealer?”
So while it seems that the FCC is leaning towards keeping net neutrality in place for now, the rules as written does seem to allow them the authority to establish some kind of prioritization in the future.
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