Tom Wheeler said the FCC has the authority to regulate broadband rates
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler told a congressional panel Tuesday that he believes the agency has the authority to regulate broadband rates after the fact and said Congress shouldn’t pass legislation explicitly taking that authority away. At the same time, Wheeler stressed that he has no intention to use that authority.
Confused, don’t worry you’re not alone.
“You believe that you should have the authority to regulate rates even though you choose not to at this time, the commission should have that authority to be able to regulate broadband rates?” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., asked Wheeler during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday.
“Yes, sir,” Tom Wheeler replied. The FCC chairman said his agency needed to retain that authority so it can prevent Internet service providers from “throttling” services — that is, slowing down Internet service to certain customers, or creating “fast lanes” for customers who pay higher prices.
Kinzinger professed surprise that Wheeler would hold out for the power to regulate broadband rates after previously saying he didn’t want it. “There’s a lot of details, but we went from you saying ‘I agree we should not be able to regulate broadband rates’ to now saying ‘we should regulate broadband rates, but I’ll forbear [doing] it for this moment,'” he said.
Ajit Pai, one of the GOP-appointed commissioners, urged Kinzinger to proceed with legislation preventing FCC regulation. “I think the chairman’s commitment should be taken at its word, that rate regulation is indeed on the table,” he said.
Considering the chairman’s track record, Mr. Pai may have a point. Consider just some of the actions of the FCC under Tom Wheeler
- Reclassified fixed and mobile broadband as Title II common carrier services.
- Used Title II authority to impose net neutrality rules that forbid blocking, throttling, and giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment.
- Decided that content providers and network operators should be able to file complaints against ISPs about rates charged for network interconnection.
- Preempted state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevent the expansion of municipal broadband providers.
- Raised the definition of broadband from 4Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream to 25Mbps/3Mbps, a move that helps justify further regulatory actions designed to promote competition (such as the municipal broadband decision).
- Refused to approve Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable.
- Pressured Sprint to abandon a potential acquisition of T-Mobile.
- Voted to create a software replacement for CableCard, forcing cable companies to make TV channels available to makers of third-party devices and software.
- Proposed a $100 million fine against AT&T, saying the company throttled unlimited data plans without adequately notifying customers about reduced speeds. (AT&T is trying to lower or eliminate the penalty.)
- Stepped up enforcement in general, with a $3.5 million fine against two small carriers that failed to protect the personal information of low-income customers; various fines against cellular carriers for bill cramming; a $40 million fine to TracFone for throttling and capping “unlimited” data; fines against hotel chains related to Wi-Fi blocking; and more.
- Pressured wireless carriers into unlocking cell phones so they can be used on competitors’ networks.
- Pressured Verizon Wireless into dropping a plan to throttle customers who pay for unlimited LTE data.
- Imposed new rules against robocalling over the objections of a lobby group that represents Google, Netflix, and other Web companies.
- Handed T-Mobile USA a victory in a fight against AT&T and Verizon Wireless over data roaming charges.
- Set limits on the amount of spectrum Verizon and AT&T can buy at an upcoming auction, boosting the chances of T-Mobile and other smaller carriers.
With a year left, Tom Wheeler still has plenty of plans in store for the industry…. Stay tuned!