FCC says it has power to block rise of Internet fast lanes

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo / AP
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington. Photo / AP

America's top telecommunications regulator told House lawmakers what consumer advocates have been longing to hear: The Federal Communications Commission can move to block the rise of Internet fast lanes.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been facing criticism for a proposal that would, for the first time, allow Internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon to offer the best download speeds to the highest bidders.

Consumer advocates fear that deep-pocketed companies such as Google and Netflix could pay for better service - a scenario that could prevent start-ups from taking off and change the basic economics of the Internet.

Wheeler told lawmakers that Internet providers would be disrupting a "virtuous cycle" if they charged companies for faster access to consumers. What's more, he said, the FCC has the legal authority to intervene.

"If there is something that interferes with that virtuous cycle - which I believe paid prioritization does - then we can move against it," Wheeler said, speaking loudly and slowly.

Later, in response to a question from Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., Wheeler cited network equipment manufacturers who have argued that companies can't create a fast lane for some Web firms without leaving others in a slower lane.

"That's at the heart of what you're talking about here," Wheeler said. "That would be commercially unreasonable under our proposal."

The FCC has not settled on whether to establish an outright ban on paid prioritization. Its proposal asks the public whether the commission should take that step. But Wheeler, who has hinted at his support for a case-by-case approach rather than a blanket ban, signaled skepticism that paid prioritzation would become the norm.

- Washington Post

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