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Internet

FCC chairman seeks Net neutrality backing from TV broadcasters

As the FCC comes under fire for its Net neutrality rules via several lawsuits, Chairman Tom Wheeler asks broadcasters for support in protecting an open Internet.

Speaking at the NAB trade show, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler asked for broadcasters' support of the agency's controversial Net Neutrality rules.
Speaking at the NAB trade show, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler asked for broadcasters' support of the agency's controversial Net Neutrality rules. Marguerite Reardon/CNET

LAS VEGAS -- Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is seeking support from traditional TV broadcasters for his controversial Net neutrality regulations.

Speaking at the NAB Show, the National Association of Broadcasters' annual conference here, Wheeler argued that the Net neutrality rules the FCC adopted in February -- and that are now the subject of several lawsuits -- are something broadcasters should get behind.

"When you want to offer something over the Internet, no one should stand in your way," Wheeler said. "Least of all, no one should stand between you and the consumers who will benefit from your service."

Specifically, Wheeler was talking about broadband providers who might slow down or degrade traffic from broadcasters, who want to distribute their TV shows or radio programs over the Internet.

He said that the Internet is the future for distribution of local news for both TV and radio broadcasters. It gives broadcasters an opportunity to distribute their TV and radio programs to viewers and listeners on multiple devices like smartphones and tablets. Other companies have already begun offering content in this way, such as Netflix, HBO Go and Amazon.

And he hopes individual broadcasters as well as the National Association of Broadcasters will support the agency's rules and help explain why the Open Internet principles are important. He said the goals of the Net neutrality rules and of broadcasters are the same.

"The Open Internet order safeguards an increasingly important distribution channel for your most important product: local news and information," Wheeler said. "It assures that your use of the Internet will be free from the risk of discrimination or holdup by a gatekeeper."

Net neutrality is the concept that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally by Internet service providers. This means cable companies like Comcast or telephone giants like AT&T can't block or slow down traffic on their broadband connections. It also means they can't charge companies such as Netflix extra to deliver their streaming-video services to consumers.

While most broadband operators say they can live with the rules, they say they can't live with the legal foundation the FCC has based the rules on. As part of the regulations, the FCC has reclassified broadband as a so-called Title II service under the Communications Act of 1934, which applies the same utility-style regulation to broadband that was originally crafted for the old telephone network.

The industry is fighting back and has already filed several lawsuits to block the regulation from taking effect. On Tuesday, both the wireless and cable industry associations as well as AT&T filed lawsuits in a federal appeals court to overturn the rules. Congress is also considering legislation that will implement Net neutrality rules, but without reclassifying broadband as a utility.

Gordon Smith, head of the National Association of Broadcasters, indicated that his organization is not interested in getting involved in this fight. The trade group has not taken a position one way or another on the issue. And he indicated in an interview after Wheeler's speech that he is unlikely to render an opinion now.

"Some of our members support Net neutrality," Smith said. "And some are against it. I'm with my members."