FCC Chairman Talks Net Neutrality, Privacy and Opening STBs

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has a lot to say about net neutrality, zero rating, privacy and Silicon Valley companies, among other topics that he’s been facing over the last months. Although net neutrality passed a year ago, a lawsuit still challenges its legality in court, with Senate Republicans issuing a report that President Obama “inappropriately and secretly influenced the FCC” into regulating broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Wheeler begs to differ.

In a one-on-one exclusive interview with The Verge, Wheeler reiterated that his mantra is “competition, competition, competition,” and made it clear that “Title II has always been on the table.”

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“As we went through the process it began to be really clear that the ‘commercially reasonable’ test was untried,” he said. “Then I coupled that with my experience representing the wireless industry — we went to Congress and asked to be made common carriers! So it was that kind of an evolutionary process.”

Wheeler adds that the FCC was “quite specific in the Open Internet Order” that they were not going to address zero rating. “We could argue it both ways,” he said. “You can see where it’s helpful if it reduces cost and increases choice. You can see where it’s harmful if it discourages and discriminates. So it’s the poster child for why we wanted to make sure we had a general conduct rule in place.”

The solution, he says, is to look “at the various schemes that have developed” and discuss them with “folks on multiple sides of the issue.”

The next battleground is privacy, according to Wheeler. “There are three key concepts,” he said. “One, that [broadband companies] are collecting data on me and it isn’t being held securely. Two, they’re collecting data on me and they ought to be telling me what they’re collecting and what it’s being used for. And three, I ought to have the choice to say whether I want them to do that or not.”

He points out that, as phone companies, they couldn’t release any information generated by a phone call without the consumer’s consent. “You’ve got to ask yourself the question: why is the information generated by an Internet search different?”

With regard to opening up set-top boxes, Wheeler believes, “nobody is saying to the cable operator that they have to change anything that they do, other than provide access to competitive boxes.”

“And the law is pretty clear: it says there needs to be competitive navigation devices,” he said. “Well, let’s obey the law!”

“There are two things intersecting. One is the law, which is black letter and very explicit. And the second is technology that finally allows a solution other than this cobbled-together CableCard solution,” he added. “And the law has said for the past 20 years that it should happen. Alright, let’s make it happen.”

Related:
FCC Proposes Privacy Rules for Internet ProvidersThe New York Times, 3/11/16