In an op-ed for Wired on Wednesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says he’s going to propose regulating high-speed Internet like a public utility.
It’s a wildly different legal take on the Internet than the way it has been regulated in the past. It means more oversight for the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon.
And to what end? Net neutrality. It’s like equal opportunity for Internet speeds and access to websites.
Wheeler’s essay for Wired explained why’s he’s taking this route.
“I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC,” Wheeler wrote. “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.”
Wheeler said his proposed rules will keep Internet providers from blocking legal websites. It’ll also prevent them from slowing down certain services, like Netflix, for filling up their wires with lots of data. Fellow FCC commissioners will vote on it later this month.
And importantly, Wheeler said these rules won’t just apply to the cables that connect to your home. For the first time in history, they’ll also apply to mobile broadband. That means if an app or service exists online, your mobile carrier can’t prevent you from using it on your smartphone.
This addresses a real problem. For example, Verizon blocked Google Wallet back in 2011. Verizon also blocked the PayPal app’s fingerprint authorization this year.
But some things are still unclear. Wheeler said his proposal “will ban paid prioritization.” That probably means Internet providers can’t set up bridge tolls, charging Netflix and Google for faster lanes to your home. But it’s still unclear if the FCC will outlaw back-end deals that give content providers faster access to broadband companies’ networks.
In the past, Wheeler has made the confusing stance that he’ll allow fast lanes, but not slow lanes. How do you get one without the other? Speed is relative.
In any case, Wheeler will present his detailed proposal to commissioners on Thursday.
Telecoms are already seething. On Monday, AT&T said it’s gearing up for a legal battle with the FCC. It’s worth noting that the last time the FCC tried something like this, it lost a legal battle with Verizon.
But the FCC is ready to fight back, Wheeler told CNET last month.