FCC chairman gives no timeline for net neutrality decision

The agency needs to make sure any rules it passes will stand up to a lawsuit, Wheeler says

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler to be chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

U.S. President Barack Obama has nominated Tom Wheeler to be chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has no public timeline for voting on proposed net neutrality rules, despite pressure from President Barack Obama and some net neutrality advocates.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler declined to give a target date for a net neutrality vote when asked Friday by reporters, saying instead that the agency is working to make sure that any rules would hold up to an almost inevitable court challenge.

"The big dogs are going to sue, regardless of what comes out," Wheeler said. "We need to make sure that we have sustainable rules. That starts with making sure that we have addressed the multiplicity of issues that have come along."

Wheeler, facing reporter questions after the commission's meeting, said he wants to move forward quickly with net neutrality, or open Internet, rules, but the rules also need to be on firm legal ground. "We are going to be sued, because that's the history," he said "We want those rules to be in place after a court decision."

Wheeler declined to say whether he would put out a new net neutrality proposal or seek more public comment on existing proposals. About 4 million people filed comments this year on Wheeler's first net neutrality proposal, which would allow broadband providers to engage in "commercially reasonable" traffic management.

Wheeler said he wants strong rules. The FCC should pass rules with "no blocking, no throttling of apps, with no fast lanes ... with no discrimination," he said.

Early this year, a U.S. appeals court threw out a large portion of net neutrality rules the FCC passed in 2010 after a court challenge from Verizon Communications.

Earlier this month, Obama called on the FCC to pass net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility. Obama's comments came less than two weeks after reports that Wheeler was looking into a so-called hybrid approach that would classify one piece of broadband service as a utility.

Asked Friday if it was appropriate for Obama to take a position when the FCC is an independent agency, and whether Obama's opinion carries extra weight, Wheeler said: "There is a process and [presidents] have every right to express themselves."

After Wheeler said the FCC needs more time to work through issues related reclassifying broadband, net neutrality advocate Free Press called on the agency to stop delaying a vote on new rules. The FCC will not vote on net neutrality rules during its Dec. 11 meeting, according to a notice released this week.

Obama and millions of U.S. residents who have filed comments with the FCC want strong net neutrality rules, said Craig Aaron, Free Press' president and CEO.

"The FCC should have all of the information and motivation it needs to make the right decision and protect Internet users by reclassifying broadband providers," Aaron said in a statement. "President Obama has joined nearly 4 million Americans in calling on the agency to protect real Net Neutrality. Now it's time for the FCC to take action."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags free presstelecommunicationregulationTom WheelerU.S. Federal Communications CommissionCraig AarongovernmentBarack ObamainternetInternet service providersbroadband

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