U.S. regulator plans case-by-case approach on Internet abuse

WASHINGTON Tue Jan 28, 2014 11:10pm IST

U.S. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is seen in this file picture taken in Washington December 12, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron/Files

U.S. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is seen in this file picture taken in Washington December 12, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gary Cameron/Files

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. communications regulator said on Tuesday he planned to set broad principles to guide how Internet service providers manage consumers' access to the Web and would pursue abuse or anti-competitiveness on a case-by-case basis.

"The Internet is evolving so rapidly that we want to look at case sets as well as generic concept rules, so that what we don't want to do is to say that somehow we're smarter than the net, because I can stipulate to that, we aren't," said Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.

"Case-by-case is a dynamic approach rather than, 'well, everybody's got to go through the eye of this needle.' And that's how we look to approach this," Wheeler said at the State of the Net conference in Washington.

Two weeks ago a U.S. appeals court struck down the FCC's so-called open Internet rules that required Internet services providers to give consumers equal access to any Web content or applications without restrictions or varied charges.

The ruling raised concerns among consumer advocates that it would start a practice among broadband providers, such as Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) or Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O), to charge content providers, such as Netflix Inc (NFLX.O) or sports ESPN, for faster Internet speeds to access their websites and services.

Verizon, which had brought the case to the court, and other large Internet providers have pledged not to restrict their customers' use of the web.

Verizon had argued that the FCC rules, passed in late 2010, represented government overreach into how they operate their networks. Opponents of the rules also see them as government micro-managing of how the companies handle bandwidth-guzzling processes on their own networks.

Video-streaming is by far the heaviest bandwidth hog on the Internet. Netflix and Google Inc's (GOOG.O) YouTube alone are estimated to account for more than half of all downstream Internet traffic at peak hours.

"We believe that markets should be innovative and at the same point in time, we are not reticent to say, 'Excuse me, that's anti-competitive. Excuse me, that's self-dealing. Excuse me, this is consumer abuse,'" Wheeler said.

The appeals court decision was the second time that the rules were struck down by the court, which on January 14 ruled the FCC had failed to show that it has a mandate to impose the anti-discrimination rules on broadband providers, although it reaffirmed the FCC's authority to regulate broadband access.

"I interpret what the court did as an invitation to us and that I intend to accept that invitation," Wheeler said on Tuesday. He has also said he was exploring all options, including an appeal.

The FCC had classified broadband providers as information service providers as opposed to telecommunications service providers, and that distinction created a legal hurdle for the FCC's authority.

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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