Tom Wheeler, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, made a spirited defense of the recent FCC net neutrality ruling to reclassify fixed and mobile broadband as a telecommunications service and place it under regulation. Speaking in the final keynote session of the day at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Wheeler claimed:
“This is no more regulating the Internet than the First Amendment regulates free speech in our country.”
Despite determined probing from GSMA Director General Anne Bouverot, who interviewed the FCC chairman on stage, Wheeler insisted that the decision to enforce net neutrality rules that prevent Internet providers from blocking or throttling traffic or introducing paid prioritization for delivering Web services was not tantamount to heavy-handed regulation.
Inhibiting network investment?
“No, no, no” he shouted at one point, as Bouverot questioned whether the rules would hamper operators’ network investment. Wheeler made the point that this year’s 4G spectrum auction in the U.S. had taken place under the knowledge that net neutrality was on the horizon, but still raised a record $41.3 billion from operators, adding:
“I don’t think any of the CFOs bidding in the auction just fell off the turnip truck.”
Wheeler said the FCC would review operators’ management of their network on a case-by-case basis, applying the yardstick of “just and reasonable” behavior, and he stressed there would be no “old-style, broad-stroke regulation”. The principles guiding the FCC decision, he said, were how to make sure consumers and innovators have open access to the Internet while also ensuring the commercial success of the operators running and investing in the networks.
Realities of the market
A day earlier at MWC, Deutsche Telekom CEO Timotheus Höttges argued that although operators were in favor of net neutrality in general, the regulator needed to keep pace with market realities, pointing out service providers “need to be allowed to have quality classes to enable new services in the Internet of Things”. A connected car, Höttges continued, needed a different standard of Internet connection to somebody streaming Spotify, but this was not a point that Wheeler addressed.
Indeed, when asked for his view of 5G, which will power the Internet of Things, Wheeler said that at this stage 5G was like going to see a Picasso painting with another person. Both people would look at the Picasso, he said, and see something completely different.
This article by Jeff Barak was originally published in Amdocs Voices