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U.S. FCC chief details pledge to police Internet 'fast lanes'

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before a Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Governm
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler testifies before a Senate Appropriations Financial Services and General Governm

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. communications regulator on Tuesday said he would use "every available power" to prevent Internet providers from restricting users' access to any web content as he seeks to calm a consumer storm over his proposed new Internet traffic rules.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has been under fire for proposing new so-called "open Internet" or "net neutrality" rules that would allow content companies to pay broadband providers for faster Internet speeds delivering their traffic as long as deals are deemed "commercially reasonable."

Consumer advocates are worried the rules would ultimately allow Internet companies like Comcast Corp or Verizon Communications Inc to create "fast lanes" on the web for traffic of content companies that pay up, potentially shutting out poorer newcomers.

In a lengthy blog post on Tuesday, his second on the subject, Wheeler said the FCC would "shut down" broadband providers' efforts to degrade their service to create a new fast lane and would not tolerate degrading of service to push customers or content companies to a higher-priced tier.

"There has been a great deal of discussion about how our proposal to follow the court's roadmap will result in a so-called 'fast lane' and Internet 'haves' and 'have-nots.' This misses the point," Wheeler said in a blog post on Tuesday.

"The Internet will remain an open pathway. If broadband providers would seek to use the commercially reasonable test as justification of activities in which users can't effectively use that pathway, or the capabilities of it are degraded, I suggest they save their breath since such conduct would be a violation of the Open Internet rules we propose," he said.

The five-member agency will vote on May 15 on formally proposing Wheeler's rules, which among other things would comment on whether the FCC should also draft rules for so-called interconnection agreements, such as one recently struck by Netflix Inc with Comcast and Verizon.

Interconnection, also known as peering, is currently outside the scope of the FCC's net neutrality rules.

Wheeler is also expected to address the issue in his appearance at the cable industry trade show in Los Angeles on Wednesday and at a congressional hearing on May 20.

The proposed rules were in response to January's court ruling that for the second time struck down the earlier rules and suggested the FCC use a different legal authority to rewrite them, allowing for some flexibility on commercially reasonable discrimination to ensure the rules stand up to legal scrutiny.

Consumer advocates have been urging the FCC to reclassify broadband providers as more heavily regulated telecommunications services, and Wheeler said he "won't hesitate" to turn to that option if his proposal proves insufficient.

Reclassification has faced tremendous pushback from the broadband industry and Republican lawmakers.

"I do not believe we should leave the market unprotected for multiple more years while lawyers for the biggest corporate players tie the FCC's protections up in court," Wheeler said in Tuesday's blog. To read it, click: http://fcc.us/1pLkFr5

(Reporting by Alina Selyukh; Editing by David Gregorio)

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