In his final public speech before stepping down as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler defended net neutrality and warned against plans to repeal the policies that have been implemented for it.
Wheeler, who will leave his post as FCC chairman next week once the administration of President-elect Donald Trump takes office, said that the planned pushback on net neutrality by Republicans is an irresponsible and bad idea.
The Accomplishments Of Net Neutrality
The Open Internet Order, which was passed in 2015, reversed years of weakening internet protections. Policies under the concept of net neutrality prevented internet providers from slowing down internet speeds or blocking access to legal online applications and websites. They also banned providers from using their control of their services to assist applications and websites who would pay certain charges or to hinder those who refuse to do so.
Wheeler defended net neutrality through two general arguments: that the policies are needed to protect the privacy of consumers through the regulation of data collection methods and the requirement for providers to seek the permission of consumers before using this data and that the policies have boosted investments in internet and broadband services as opposed to regulations that have stifled the growth of the industry through government interference.
Wheeler Asks, 'Where's The Fire?'
Republicans are claiming that net neutrality has actually stifled investments, instead of boosted them. Wheeler, however, argues that they should simply take a look at the effects of the Open Internet Order.
"Where's the fire? What has happened since the Open Internet rules were adopted to justify uprooting the policy?" asked Wheeler in his speech, adding that investments in networks and innovative services have gone up. Revenues by internet service providers have also increased, with stock prices reaching record levels due to the net neutrality policies.
Wheeler claims that net neutrality is necessary due to the fact that companies who build networks have both the ability and incentive to use their services for their own benefit, even if it meant harming consumers and the public interest. As such, regulations in the form of the Open Internet Order is necessary.
In addition, if the new FCC would push forward with undoing net neutrality rules, it will be facing several challenges. Wheeler said that the FCC would need to launch a public comment period on the initiative, while providing evidence to justify the reversal. In addition, the agency would need to defend its decision in court and why it believes that the Open Internet Order was a mistake.
Net Neutrality In Danger Under Trump Presidency
Upon Trump's election as the 45th President of the United States, investors and experts in the telecommunications industry believed that the chance of the reversal of the net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration was significantly heightened.
Trump previously criticized net neutrality rules, along with his fellow Republicans, who have grabbed control of both the White House and Congress.
Appointments made by Trump to supervise the transition of the FCC into the new administration also led many to believe that the Open Internet Order was in danger, as the two appointed individuals, former Sprint lobbyist Mark Jamison and economist Jeff Eisenach, are staunch opponents of net neutrality.