Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, published an opinion piece in "Wired" Wednesday outlining his plan for net neutrality. The article comes as the FCC approaches a highly anticipated vote on the issue Feb. 26.
Wheeler laid out his intent to use the commission's authority to create "the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC." The central points: to ban paid prioritization, or the controversial "fast lane" that would allow Internet service providers to take money from big sites (think: Google, Netflix) for expediting the transmission of their content, and, on the other side of the coin, the blocking and throttling of data.
Wheeler harkened back to his days as president of an Internet startup called NABU that was trounced by AOL in the '80s. While his company delivered access over cable networks, which relied on the television operators granting access, AOL was using phone lines, to which the FCC had mandated open access in the 1960s.
That granting of access let AOL thrive where NABU (though "delivering better service") failed. Furthermore, without that granting of access, Wheeler argued, "the Internet wouldn't have emerged as it did."
Based on that success, he believes it is once again time for the commission to flex its muscles.
"Broadband network operators have an understandable motivation to manage their network to maximize their business interests," he wrote. "But their actions may not always be optimal for network users. The Congress gave the FCC broad authority to update its rules to reflect changes in technology and marketplace behavior in a way that protects consumers."
He continued that he had initially believed that Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 would be sufficient to keep the Internet "open" based on the determination of "commercial reasonableness," but now he worries that this "concept might, down the road, be interpreted to mean what is reasonable for commercial interests, not consumers."
Now, Wheeler is proposing President Obama's tack to apply Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, expanding it from radio, telegraph and phone service to include the Internet -- "modernizing" it, he wrote, "tailoring it for the 21st Century."
This would also include mobile broadband.
"My proposal assures the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone's permission."
Broadband providers have argued that the government shouldn't interfere with how they run their networks and generate revenue in a competitive marketplace. Wheeler contended that there will be no rate regulation or tariffs, and stressed that under similar rules, the wireless industry invested $300 billion in innovation and infrastructure, "proving that modernized Title II regulation can encourage investment and competition."