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Former FCC chairman makes case for keeping net neutrality regulations

At a public forum at Betamore in City Garage, Tom Wheeler argued that an open internet is key to innovation.

Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler wants to keep net neutrality. (Photo by Flickr user TechCrunch, used under a Creative Commons license)

The innovation that’s happened as a result of the internet is in part a result of technological development. There’s another key ingredient, said former Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler: openness.
“In a world in which the internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet and is essential for all economic activity, if that network isn’t open, that opportunity gets squashed,” he said Wednesday during an event at Betamore’s recently opened City Garage campus, adding that opportunity extends to the startups building companies at the incubator.
It was one tenet of his argument for keeping the net neutrality regulations that he helped pass in 2015. They’re designed to prevent internet service providers from controlling how fast web or app content loads, or blocking content altogether. Moves that would lead to services paying for access to faster internet would decrease the free and open access that’s made it possible for new technology to enter the market, Wheeler said.
The regulations could be overturned. After being appointed, current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai began the process of rolling back the provisions in May. The White House voiced support.

But some Republican members of Congress are also attempting to craft their own legislation. The Hill reported the GOP members are urging Democrats to work out a legislative compromise outside the FCC, and they invited CEOs from tech and telecom companies to testify on Sept. 7.

To talk about the potential risks of letting changes go through, Wheeler, Congressman John Sarbanes and other supporters of the regulations held a forum on the issue. No opponents of the net neutrality rules spoke at the event.
Wheeler said any changes could end up leaving the internet looking more like cable service, where providers choose which channels are on the air, and charge companies to be there.

The issue has generated lots of interest. The FCC received more than 12 million public comments, and they’re still being accepted. Also on Wednesday morning, Pai said he would look at comments that showed the net neutrality rules led to an increase in infrastructure investment, as well as how a rollback would harm startups and small businesses, Ars Technica reported.
The rule could be finalized in the fall, and former FCC General Counsel Jonathan Sallet said the shelf life of the comments will likely go beyond that. A court challenge is likely, and the comments can back up positions during that process.
“This order, if it’s adopted, will be tested, and that’s why the comments are important,” he said.

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