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FCC to Fight Open-Internet Court Defeat, Chairman Says

FCC Chairman Tom  Wheeler
“I intend to fight,” U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a speech in Washington today. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said it will fight to preserve its power to require equal treatment of Internet traffic, prolonging a battle that has pitted phone carriers that want to charge for carrying content against Web companies that would pay.

The U.S. Court of Appeals on Jan. 14 sided with Verizon Communications Inc. in its decision tossing out the FCC’s rules against companies blocking or slowing Web access. The court invited the agency to act, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said today during a speech in Washington.

“I intend to fight,” said Wheeler, a Democrat.

The court ruling gives Internet-service providers including Verizon and AT&T Inc. freedom to charge Web companies such as Google Inc. and Netflix Inc. to reach subscribers. Policy groups say the ruling will set the stage for service providers to throttle the wide-open Web and replace it with sponsored channels. Verizon said in a statement that consumers’ Web access won’t change.

“Using our authority we will re-address the concepts in the open Internet order, as the court invited, to encourage growth and innovation and enforce against abuse,” Wheeler said.

Asked for details after the speech, Wheeler said, twice, “I’m going to accept the invitation. Watch.”

Appeal Possible

Supporters of the stricken rule have urged the FCC to reclaim power over Internet service providers by using a legal framework different from the theory attacked by the court. The three-judge panel in its decision also pointed to FCC powers that remain following its decision for jurisdiction over broadband.

Wheeler has said the FCC may appeal the decision.

Proponents say regulations are needed to keep Internet service providers from interfering with rival video and other services. They say that without rules, Internet providers could favor wealthier, established players at the expense of startups, squelching innovation.

Verizon, based in New York, told the appeals court on Sept. 9 that the FCC’s rules may make it more difficult to manage increasing network traffic, and would damp investment in more Internet capacity.

To contact the reporter on this story: Todd Shields in Washington at tshields3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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