FCC Chairman, Congress Weigh In on Net Neutrality

The worlds of technology and politics are converging this week as the just-started 114th Congress considers new Net neutrality legislation ahead of an expected decision on the issue next month by the Federal Communications Commission. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in the meantime, put in an appearance Wednesday at a different venue: the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Speaking at CES, Wheeler repeatedly hinted he favored reclassification of Internet broadband as a public utility, which would subject Internet providers to some of the same rules that govern phone companies. The so-called Net neutrality approach has drawn heavy fire from Internet service providers and Republicans who warn it will lead to burdensome regulation. Democrats, President Obama and consumer groups, on the other hand, have sided with maintaining Net neutrality.

Wheeler Hints at Neutrality Approach

Pressure has been mounting on Wheeler and the other commissioners to adopt new rules that would protect an open Internet from the possibility of "fast lanes" for those who could pay a premium. The agency fielded more than 4 million public comments -- a record -- on the issue late last year, with a large number of those expressing support for reclassifying Internet access as a utility-like, Title II service with greater regulatory authority.

The FCC chairman said Wednesday that over the last several months the narrative became " 'Wheeler and the president are pulling at opposite directions on this,' which made for good headlines but wasn't reality."

Ahead of the FCC's expected decision, Democrats in the newly convened Congress on Wednesday reintroduced a bill that would prohibit paid prioritization ("fast lane") agreements between broadband and content providers. That bicameral legislation -- introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) -- made a quick appearance ahead of rumors that Republicans, who now enjoy a majority in...

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