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Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Wheeler has been at the center of the Net neutrality debate, leading the Federal Communication Commission’s effort to fashion new rules governing the Internet. He became chairman in November 2013, appointed to the position by President Barack Obama.

Wheeler previously led  lobbying efforts for the cable and wireless industries, and was also a venture capitalist and CEO of several tech companies focused on telecommunications. He was president and CEO of two trade groups: the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, and the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.

While his former ties with the cable and wireless industry raised eyebrows during his appointment, he is now poised to shake up the Internet with stricter regulations.

This gallery is part of a CNET special report looking at the challenges of Net neutrality, and what rules -- if any -- are needed to fuel innovation and protect US consumers.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images
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Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

President Obama stepped into the Net neutrality debate in November when he came out in favor of tighter government regulations of Internet providers to preserve “a free and open Internet.”

“An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life,” Obama wrote.

FCC Chairman Wheeler praised the president for his statement, calling it "an important and welcome addition to the record of the Open Internet proceeding.”

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
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Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

On his HBO show, "Last Week Tonight," Oliver in June went after FCC Chairman Wheeler in a humorous 13-minute rant.

"Yes, the guy who used to run the cable industry's lobbying arm is now tasked with regulating it," Oliver said. "That is the equivalent of needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo. 'Here's $20 for kibble, please don't eat my baby.'"

He also called on Internet trolls to comment on the FCC’s website about the new proposal, which resulted in a flood of public responses to the agency.

Oliver’s rant helped raise public awareness of the latest Net neutrality debate and pressured Wheeler to broaden his thinking about the public's needs.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images
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Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Hastings, CEO of the world's largest online-video streaming company, has repeatedly spoken in favor of Net neutrality, saying it's important for “democratizing access to ideas, services, and goods.”

There's also a strong business case for Hastings' populist position. Under a different system, Netflix -- whose video-streams often make up the majority of Internet traffic during peak-use times -- could be forced to pay broadband providers more money to disseminate its traffic.

Netflix has long argued that interconnection -- the practice of content providers connecting directly to an ISP's network to get traffic to consumers without going through a middleman -- should be considered part of Net neutrality. The FCC has said interconnection is a separate issue, but it may be addressed in the new FCC proposal.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: David Becker/Getty Images
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of 13

Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Stephenson warned in November that he could hold off on many of his company's capital investment plans -- including fast new fiber lines -- if uncertainty persists over how the US government will regulate the Internet. "It's prudent to pause," he said at an investor conference.

However, later that month, AT&T backtracked on those comments and said it would honor its current commitments. The changed posture came soon after the FCC sent a letter asking for more information about the expansion, such as whether the effort would be unprofitable and how many homes AT&T plans to include.

Last month, Stephenson repeated that the company was in "pause mode" on future projects until it gets more clarity from the FCC.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images
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Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Comcast, a broadband provider, has sided against additional regulation in the Net neutrality debate. In its official comments to the FCC, Comcast said the agency shouldn’t reclassify broadband under tighter rules as a way to protect the free and open Internet.

And contrary to Netflix's position, Comcast argues that commercial interconnection deals, such as the arrangement it has with the streaming video service, shouldn't be addressed in the new rules.

"Providers like Netflix have always paid for their interconnection to the Internet and have always had ample options to ensure that their customers receive an optimal performance through all ISPs at a fair price," Cohen (left), Comcast's top policy executive, said in March.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
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of 13

Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Gigi Sohn is a long-time proponent of greater broadband oversight by the government. In 2013, she left her position as CEO of open-Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge to work as a top adviser to FCC Chairman Wheeler.

While at the nonprofit, she pushed for Net neutrality rules and for reclassifying broadband under tighter Title II regulations. Many observers credit Sohn with helping Wheeler see the issues from the perspective of startups, consumers and entrepreneurs.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
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Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Wu coined the term Net neutrality and has been a vocal advocate of the concept.

He's been influential in helping fashion some of the ideas that went into the FCC's new open Internet proposal.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Getty Images
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of 13

Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Genachowski served as FCC chairman from 2009 to 2013, and was the first chairman under President Obama.

He led the agency when the 2010 Open Internet rules were passed. Those regulations were thrown out by a federal appeals court in early 2014, forcing the FCC, now under Wheeler, to develop new rules.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images
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of 13

Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Copps, who served as an FCC commissioner from 2001 to 2011, has long pushed for Net neutrality. He was critical of the 2010 Open Internet rules when they were passed -- even though he voted for them -- because he thought they were too weak.

He's regularly sounded the alarm against "paid priority," a concept of creating faster Internet service for companies that pay a fee, and a slower service for those that don't.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images
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Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Powell, an FCC commissioner for nearly a decade, is the CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, the lobbying group for the cable industry. Current FCC Chairman Wheeler held the same lobbying job from 1979 to 1984.

The NCTA has fought against greater regulation of the Internet, saying a lighter touch will encourage continued innovation on the Internet.

Powell was an FCC commissioner from 1997 to 2005, serving his last four years there as chairman. He was the first FCC chairman to establish Net neutrality principles.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Allison Shelley/Getty Images
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Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Martin was the FCC chairman from 2005 to 2009.

He tried using the FCC's Net neutrality principles to reprimand Comcast when it was accused of throttling file-sharing site BitTorrent's traffic. Comcast sued, which led to the FCC's first major legal defeat on Net neutrality.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Bill Clark/Roll Call/Getty Images
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of 13

Tom Wheeler -- FCC chairman

President Barack Obama

John Oliver -- comedian

Reed Hastings - Netflix CEO

Randall Stephenson - AT&T CEO

David Cohen - Comcast executive

Gigi Sohn -- activist turned FCC staffer

Tim Wu -- law professor at Columbia University

Julius Genachowski -- former FCC chairman

Michael Copps -- former FCC commissioner

Michael Powell -- former FCC chairman

Kevin Martin - former FCC chairman

Ed Whitacre -- former SBC Communications CEO

Whitacre (center), who became CEO of AT&T after it merged with SBC, made waves in 2005 when he complained in a BusinessWeek story that companies like Google and Vonage were freeloaders on his company's pipes.

"Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain't going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it," he told the magazine.

His comments were a key impetus to the Net neutrality debate.

Published: / Caption: / Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images
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