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FCC a 'referee,' not a regulator, of the Internet, Wheeler says

Matt Hamblen | March 4, 2015
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday defended the commission's recent vote in support of net neutrality, saying it isn't regulation as some critics contend it is, but instead sets up the Federal Communication Commission as a kind of referee.

Wheeler, a former chairman of the CTIA wireless association in the U.S. in the early 1990s, said he worked in that job when the mobile industry asked for Title II rules. "Suddenly over [last] summer — bam! I realized I've been here before and it's Title II. "

In its controversial decision, the commission voted 3-2 to reclassify broadband as a regulated public utility and to prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic and from offering paid services to prioritize Web traffic.

Many critics of the FCC's action have said Wheeler picked the Title II approach at the behest of President Obama. Wheeler, a Democrat, was appointed to the FCC by Obama .

Repeating a comment he made at the Feb. 26 meeting when the FCC voted to support net neutrality, Wheeler said, "Let's be real clear: This is no more regulating the Internet than the First Amendment regulates free speech. This is not regulating; regulation is tariffing and rate regulation.... We're for an open Internet and that's not regulation of the Internet. No government or private entity will block the Internet as a vehicle of fee expression."

Carrier executives attending MWC steered away from commenting on the FCC's net neutrality vote, including AT&T Mobility CEO Glenn Lurie. Noting that the official rules voted on by the FCC won't be published for weeks and only a summary has been made official, Lurie said in an interview, "Let's see the rules before we comment. It's hard to tell what they mean."

Like Verizon and other carriers, Lurie said AT&T is already devoted to the principles of net neutrality. "We've always supported net neutrality. The U.S. is leading the world in every aspect of the Internet. The world views us as a leader and a role model."


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