LAS VEGAS — FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Wednesday called for an open Internet that protects innovators and consumers while also making sure Internet service providers (ISPs) retain economic incentives to continue building better networks.
Wheeler told an audience at International CES here that he will give the other four members of the Federal Communications Commission his specific recommendations about the open Internet debate on Feb. 5, with a commission vote set for Feb. 26.
Open Internet reform has provoked unprecedented public interest, Wheeler said, generating four million comments to the FCC last fall. ISPs have lined up to oppose recommendations made by President Barack Obama in November to treat them as common communications carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
While the FCC is an independent agency, Wheeler said he agrees with Obama that websites shouldn't be blocked and services shouldn't be slowed by carriers — and that no carrier offer priority service with a payment.
"When the president said he was for Title II, there was an effort made to say that Wheeler and the president were pulling in opposite directions, but we're both pulling in the same direction for no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritization," Wheeler said. "We're both headed down the same path for the same goals."
The question Wheeler and the full FCC face now is how to create a set of goals that places "just and reasonable" rules on service providers, he added.
While not revealing his plan, Wheeler added, "There is a way to do Title II right that says many parts of Title II are inappropriate and would thwart [network] investment."
He named three sections of Title II that should be left out — Sections 201, 202 and 208 — and promised, "Clearly, we are going to come out with a gold standard" for an open Internet.
He said the approach he favors won't force unneeded regulations on ISPs, as they fear. "We'll propose rules that say no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritization and add that there is a yardstick against which [service provider] behavior should be measured, and that yardstick is 'just and reasonable'" actions by carriers.
When asked by Consumer Electronics Association CEO Gary Shapiro in an on-stage interview if there's going to be a way for the FCC to allow carriers to give network priority to health information over pornography, Wheeler said he was "not going into details of what our paid prioritization is.... There are instances where priority makes a whole heck of a lot of sense, so you need to be careful."
He mentioned that network priority should matter, especially in granting users network access in national emergencies, for example. "There are instances where prioritization makes sense, but many others where [carriers] can buy their way into a better position because of deep pockets that we want to look askance at," Wheeler said. "What we're hoping to put in place is a 'just and reasonable' standard and then say [when reviewing a specific request by a carrier] is that just and reasonable?"
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