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Editorial: To Have and Have Not

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler came into the post at one of the most pivotal moments in the commission’s history, faced with a years-delayed media ownership rule review and an auction that will determine the fate of broadcasters. And, oh yes, network neutrality rules that had been thrown out by a court.

We don’t agree with how he has handled the media ownership issue, firing a shot across the bow at sharing arrangements and doing nothing to loosen rules that limit broadcasters’ ability to compete. The auction framework needs a lot of work as well, as does Wheeler’s bedside manner with broadcasters if he’s in earnest about wanting a vibrant broadcasting business after the auction…at least we hope he has said that somewhere along the way.

He is, however, getting a bad rap on net neutrality. We applaud the chairman for his efforts to keep the communications press informed about upcoming items—he is trying to deliver on his promise of transparency. But he missed an opportunity to better outline his finessing of new network neutrality rules.

His draft proposal has been slammed by net neutrality backers far and wide as a one-chairman effort to gut the rules and divide the Internet into slow and fast, have and have not. That dog, however, won’t hunt. In fact, it appears from an FCC staff briefing on the item to be Wheeler and his legal team’s best effort to restore the old rules as closely as possible, according to the directive of the federal court that has to sign off on them.

“Prohibiting unreasonable discrimination” has become “allowing reasonable discrimination,” the equivalent of separating the “maybe haves” into the “haves, maybe.” That’s hardly justification for the pillorying we’ve seen of late.