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FCC boss Wheeler talks tough on net neutrality with Title II threat

Says he 'won't hesitate' to slap down telcos that flout Open Internet rules

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Just days after being accused of gutting net neutrality provisions in the US, the head of the US Federal Communications Commission is vowing to take any measures necessary to prevent a multi-tiered internet.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Tuesday that the commission would continue to enforce an open internet policy, even if that meant using the Title II provision of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, making it subject to stronger regulations.

"I do not believe we should leave the market unprotected for multiple more years while lawyers for the biggest corporate players tie the FCC’s protections up in court," Wheeler said in a blog post.

"Notwithstanding this, all regulatory options remain on the table. If the proposal before us now turns out to be insufficient or if we observe anyone taking advantage of the rule, I won’t hesitate to use Title II."

The comments comes in the wake of a proposal by Wheeler to ease the commission's stance on net neutrality by allowing for certain cases where "commercially reasonable" arrangements could be made to allow certain companies such as streaming video providers to enjoy preferred network access.

The proposal was widely panned as a concession by the FCC that would gut net neutrality in the wake of a decision against the commission in its case with Verizon. Critics argued that Wheeler, a former CTIA exec, had turned in favor of companies who sought to end net neutrality protection.

Wheeler, however, maintains that the new plan would seek to maintain a basic foundation of net neutrality and that the "commercially reasonable" designation would not be allowed for deals that would harm consumers, create exclusive network services or harm competition and free speech.

"If broadband providers would seek to use the commercially reasonable test as justification of activities in which users can’t effectively use that pathway, or the capabilities of it are degraded, I suggest they save their breath since such conduct would be a violation of the Open Internet rules we propose," Wheeler said. "If anyone acts to degrade the service for all for the benefit of a few, I intend to use every available power to stop it."

The FCC commissioners are set to vote on the proposed rules on May 15, after which a public comment window will follow before a final decision will be made. ®

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