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Editorial: Now Hear This

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler could not have made it any clearer that his goal in new network neutrality rules is to recreate the old rules, only in a legally sustainable form.

That came in his keynote speech at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention in L.A.

Wheeler’s could have been a triumphal return to the association he once headed, perhaps plugging his pro-cable moves on coordinated retrans and joint sales agreements to draw applause lines in the process. Instead, he came with a stern warning about net neutrality.

Current NCTA president Michael Powell said he was not surprised by Wheeler’s strong defense of the proposed new rules, but also took some issue with the chairman’s suggestion that they were necessary because his audience was a threat to the open Internet.

We understand that Wheeler has been under the gun from public advocacy groups accusing him of caving on net neutrality—that’s hardly the case, and some groups were tempering their rhetoric after initially brandishing metaphorical pitchforks and torches. His message was clearly meant for them, and for the media who reported the story, as well as for all those cable execs not finding applause lines in the speech.

But we join Powell in standing up for the cable ops, who signaled to the chairman that they would abide by open Internet principles even while Wheeler came up with new rules to fill the ‘gap’ left when the court remanded the old ones.

As Powell pointed out last week, cable ops did not take the old rules to court; and he vowed to be a constructive partner. Wheeler ultimately conceded he had no doubt cable would be that constructive partner.

But it takes two to make a partnership. If the FCC is too restrictive in how it allows Internet service providers to differentiate service, it could land the rules back in court, and leave cable operators still wondering what they can and can’t do.