The future of net neutrality looks pretty fucking bleak right now. Next week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will step down after leading the commission for the last three years. During his time as chairman, Wheeler issued the 2015 Open Internet Order, a set of rules that protests net neutrality by prohibiting internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling web traffic. All indications show the new FCC will work to undo the current commissions work “as soon as possible.”
Last week, Wheeler spoke at the Aspen Institute in his final address as FCC chairman. During the address, the chairman used a large portion of his time to make a final plea to keep net neutrality rules in place.
“For the past three years, we’ve moved through a key stage in the IP revolution,” Wheeler said. “While the nature of how information is delivered has changed from analogue to digital, the basic responsibilities of network owners to network users has not changed.”
Chairman Wheeler spent only a couple of minutes talking about some of the decisions and priorities of his commission. He then quickly shifted to the growing tensions over existing net neutrality rules, and why it would be a huge blow to consumers if they’re substantially revoked.
“The question going forward is whether the ISPs and policymakers will recognize that obeying speed limits helps everyone,” Wheeler said. “The overall goal of the new policies was to promote a thriving broadband ecosystem, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
In a rather fiery moment, Wheeler cited AT&T’s zero-rating DirecTV Now deal that essentially skirts net neutrality rules. He called back to the “porting debates” that hindered video providers prior to the ruling. He did not specially mention the Netflix and Verizon deal by name.
“What some describe as free market economics cannot mean simply freeing incumbents of their responsibilities,” he later added. “A hands-off approach to network oversight is more than a shift in direction, it is a decision to remove rights and move backward.”
Despite the harsh realities mentioned by Wheeler, it likely won’t be enough to save net neutrality rules from the two remaining FCC commissioners, both members of the GOP.
FCC chairmen Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly sent a joint letter in late December to the US telecom industry’s five biggest and most powerful lobbying groups. The chairmen promised to reverse legislation meant to protect consumers. “As you know, we dissented from the Commission’s February 2015 Net Neutrality decision,” the statement said, “and we will seek to revisit those particular requirements... as soon as possible.”
Wheeler’s speech was great today, but unfortunately, it probably won’t be enough.