Wheeler Mum on Open-Internet Order Outlines

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler today declined to expound on what would or would not be in the FCC's Open Internet order, saying "nothing has been decided."

That included not commenting on whether the order would propose reclassifying Internet access under Title II, whether interconnection would be addressed and whether the new rules would include wireless, though Wheeler has signaled that and Title II reclassification are both likely.

The chairman's nonanswers came in a press conference following the FCC's monthly meeting on Jan. 29.

Wheeler said the order's specfics would become clearer when the FCC circulates a draft, which is targeted for Feb. 5, three weeks before a planned Feb. 26 vote. He added that the FCC would use "all the tools in the toolbox" to protect a free and open Internet for consumers.

He also declined comment on an effort by congressional Republicans to craft legislation to head off Title II reclassification. He said he respected the right of Congress to "write whatever rules they want to write" and said he was pleased that Congress was focusing "on the question of an Open Internet and the importance of there being an Open Internet." Both the House and Senate have already held net-neutrality hearings, tagged to the proposed legislation.

So far, no Democrats have signed on, according to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), co-author of the draft, but he said this week they were still working on getting bipartisan buy-in.

Also in the nonanswer category for Wheeler was whether all the net-neutality rules would take effect immediately or be phased in.

Republican leaders have asked the FCC to publish the draft at the same time it circulates it. Earlier this week, Sen. Thune, one of those who had asked, said he had not gotten an answer.

Wheeler said legislators would get one, but that "the precedent from Democratic and Republican chairmen has always been that you have an internal discussion and then you release what the result of that vote is. And you don't change those decades of precedent overnight without following the procedures to review questions like that."

"I am going to obviously respond to them," Wheeler said, "but it is important to recognize that I fell strongly, as I know the [committee] chairmen do, about process." But he added, "We are certainly going to make sure the American people are informed about what we are talking about."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.