FCC Chief Slams Broadband Giants, Says Net Neutrality Will Win in Court

"You're playing God with the internet!"

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Mar 27 2015, 7:36pm

​FCC net neutrality hearing on Feb. 26. Image: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The Federal Communications Commission's landmark net neutrality rules will survive a fierce legal onslaught from the broadband industry, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler predicted on Friday, in his strongest defense of the new policy since two lawsuits were filed earlier this week.

In a speech at Ohio State University School of Law, Wheeler also had harsh words for cable and telecom giants, which he said want to operate "free from oversight from government."

"The FCC's new rules will be upheld by the courts," Wheeler declared. "When that happens, the big winners will be America's consumers and innovators and our economy as a whole."

Wheeler's combative tone marked a departure from his usually more diplomatic style, and suggested that he is preparing for what could be a long and nasty legal fight over the FCC's new rules, which were passed last month in the face of industry opposition.

Earlier this week, US Telecom, a national industry group, and Texas-based Alamo Broadband, filed lawsuits calling the new rules "arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion" by the FCC.

The nation's largest broadband companies, including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, say the FCC's new rules will subject them to onerous new regulations and raise prices for consumers.

Net neutrality advocates argue that the new rules, which prohibit broadband providers from blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, are necessary to ensure that the internet remains an open and level playing field for innovation and economic growth.

"You're playing God with the internet!"

Wheeler delivered his speech following a marathon series of Capitol Hill appearances in which he testified before five Republican-led committees in eight days. During the hearings, GOP lawmakers repeatedly attacked the new FCC policy as an attempt by the Obama administration to "take over" the internet.

"You're playing God with the internet!" Louie Gohmert, the Texas Republican, shouted at Wheeler during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, a DC-based public interest group, said that Gohmert's outburst reflects the broadband industry's fierce anti-net neutrality lobbying campaign.

"Mr. Gohmert is not representing the people and the businesses in his district who use the internet when he goes off the rails like this," said Wood. "He's just parroting the empty claims of a few powerful companies that provide internet access."

In his speech, Wheeler suggested that the outcome of the battle over the FCC's new rules will determine whether the internet remains an open platform and engine for innovation, or a commercial zone controlled by the broadband industry.

"We can have an open internet policy that advances the interests of tens of thousands of innovators, and millions of Internet users," Wheeler said, "or we can have an open internet policy that advances the interests of a few powerful companies."​