FCC Chairman: Broadband Rules Could Cover Wireless Networks – Wall Street Journal (blog)

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler
European Pressphoto Agency

Wireless carriers could soon be subject to new rules on how they handle content on their networks, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler suggested Tuesday.

The FCC is currently considering new rules for how broadband providers must treat traffic traveling over their networks. Speaking at CTIA Shows, a wireless-industry convention in Las Vegas, Wheeler said his agency is seriously considering whether to apply the rules to wireless networks.

Wheeler’s proposal as it stands would ban broadband providers from blocking or slowing down individual websites, but open the door for them to cut deals with content companies for special access to consumers, like faster lanes. The proposal has spawned a severe backlash from advocates of net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Net neutrality proponents have flooded the FCC with more than 1.2 million comments this summer, most of them calling for the FCC to ban special deals like fast lanes.

The FCC tentatively concluded this spring that the new rules shouldn’t cover wireless networks, similar to 2010 rules that were tossed out in federal court after a challenge by Verizon. However, Wheeler noted that many comments have since disagreed with this conclusion, including those issued by large technology companies like Microsoft, as consumers increasingly rely on smartphones, tablets and mobile devices to get online.

“Microsoft, for instance, told the commission that because we live in what they called a ‘mobile first’ world, ‘There is no question that mobile broadband access services must be subject to the same legal framework as fixed broadband access services,’” Wheeler said, according to his prepared remarks.

Wheeler said the FCC has “specifically recognized that there have been significant changes in the mobile marketplace since 2010,” such as the spike in mobile data use and the deployment of faster, next-generation wireless networks. He said thousands of consumers have urged the agency to ensure that any new rules apply to wireless carriers.

“One of the constant themes on the record is how consumers increasingly rely on mobile broadband as an important pathway to access the Internet,” Wheeler said. “The basic issue that is raised is whether the old assumptions upon which the 2010 rules were based match new realities.”

Wheeler also voiced concern about wireless carriers throttling or slowing down the connections of heavy data users, even those that have paid for unlimited data plans.

“We are very concerned about the possibility that some customers are being singled out for disparate treatment even though they have paid for the capacity that is being throttled,” Wheeler said.

“And we are equally concerned that customers may have been led to purchase devices relying on the promise of unlimited usage only to discover, after the device purchase, that they are subject to throttling.”


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