FCC's New Chairman Touts New Net Neutrality Rules at CES Despite Predecessor's Opposition

Newly appointed FCC chairman Tom Wheeler outlined his approach to internet regulation in a speech during the Consumer Electronics Show currently underway in Las Vegas, as Variety's David S. Cohen reported yesterday evening.

During a conversation with CES head Gary Shapiro, Wheeler stressed a respect for an open market -- as long as innovation wasn't being stifled by internet service providers. “We’re pro-innovation, we’re pro-competition, and we want to protect both,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler's thesis centered around a 194-page document, released December 23rd, called the Open Internet Order, which outlines the FCC's priorities as they relate to keeping the web open enough for its transformative innovations to continue without restriction by broadband companies.

In the document the FCC proposes "three basic rules that are grounded in broadly accepted Internet norms":

i. Transparency.
Fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of their broadband services;

ii. No blocking.
Fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services; and

iii. No unreasonable discrimination.
Fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

In the document, former FCC chairman Julius Genachowski lauded the changes, writing:

"'The Web as we know it [is] being threatened.' That’s Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, in a recent article. He continued, 'A neutral communications medium is the basis of a fair, competitive market economy, of democracy, and of science. Although the Internet and the Web generally thrive on lack of regulation, some basic values have to be legally preserved.' Today, for the first time, the FCC is adopting rules to preserve basic Internet values. While the Commission had in the past pursued bipartisan enforcement of Open Internet principles, we have not had properly adopted rules. Now, for the first time, we’ll have enforceable, high level rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness."

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Another former chairman, Robert M. McDowell, who served as the FCC's head from June 1, 2006 to May 17, 2013, sharply disagreed with the FCC's new tack, writing in the Order that "[the internet's] success was the result of bottom up collaboration, not top down regulation. No one needs permission to start a website or navigate the Web freely. To suggest otherwise is nothing short of fear mongering."

Meanwhile, on the front-facing side of things, concern is rising over the implementation of Digital Rights Management into the standards which govern the architecture of web pages, causing Cory Doctorow, an impassioned and oft-overbearing advocate for an open internet, to write that we are "Huxleying ourselves into the full Orwell."

While prediction on the future of the web is as mercurial as the thing itself, there is no doubt that 2014 may well bring a radically transformed structure to the bedrock of our shared digital space.

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