Wheeler:Net Rules Need Protection From Legal 'Big Dogs'

FCC Chair Says He Wants Rules ASAP, But They Must Be Legally Sustainable
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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has declined to say when new network neutrality rules would be introduced, but signaled he needed to make sure they could survive the legal challenges he was sure were coming.

"The big dogs are going to sue, regardless of what comes out," he said in a press conference following the FCC's monthly meeting Friday (Nov. 21). He did not identify those court-loving canines, but suits could come from various stakeholders, ISPs, Silicon Valley, even public interest groups, depending on what the FCC does.

"We need to make sure that we have sustainable rules, and that starts with making sure that we have addressed the multiplicity of issues that are likely to be raised." He said the FCC needs to be thoughtful in the way the rules are structured and presented.

FCC sources have indicated that staffers signaled rules by the end of the year would be tough given those issues, which relate to how a Title II regime would, or would not, prevent discrimination, and the various hybrid proposals that use both Title II and Sec. 706 authority to buttress new rules.

Wheeler said the goal is an open Internet with no blocking, no throttling of apps, no fast lanes, and no discrimination, but rules insuring them need to be able to stay in place. "This has been a debate for a decade. We ought to get it into reality and make it something that protects the American people and the Internet," he said. 

When asked by Politico reporter Brooks Boliek whether a Wheeler-led FCC would approve new open Internet rules, he said "I certainly hope so," but would not convert that to a "yes" when pressed, echoing his initial comment with a chuckle.

Top aide Gigi Sohn has signaled the rules would not likely be done by year's end, and they were not on the agenda for the FCC's Dec. 11 meeting circulated this week. FCC watchers are predicting February or March as the most likely time frame.

President Barack Obama has come out strongly in favor of Title II. Asked if it was appropriate for the President to offer up a "specific policy proposal" to an independent agency, Wheeler said he thought the White House had "every right" to express itself.

Wheeler confirmed the White House had given him the broad outlines of the President's Title II proposal, but had not seen any of the specifics prior to the President's online video making the pitch.

The chairman declined to comment on whether the FCC would apply network neutrality conditions on the pending Comcast/Time Warner Cable or AT&T/DirecTV deals, saying he would not comment on hypotheticals.