Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, finds himself caught between the demands of a federal appeals court, a Republican Congress, and recent statements by President Barack Obama over how to oversee Internet services, The New York Times
Part of what is at stake is whether Internet service providers can charge some websites an additional fee in return for speeding the delivery of their content. Obama is against that and is asking Wheeler to regulate the Internet like a utility.
The appeals court has said that since the F.C.C. had previously classified broadband carriers as free from rules that treated them like other common carrier utilities, it couldn't turn around and block them from charging content companies for priority delivery.
The court, however, did say that the F.C.C. has "general authority to regulate in this arena," the Times reported.
Republicans tend to agree with the court and oppose regulating the Internet like a public utility, the Times reported.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a hearing on Dec. 10 regarding the commission's stance on Internet rules.
Internet service providers like AT&T, which spend money creating high-speed fiber-optic broadband infrastructure, want to know how any F.C.C. plans to regulate Internet service will affect their profits.
"We can't go out and invest that kind of money deploying fiber to 100 cities not knowing under what rules those investments will be governed," said Randall Stephenson, the company's chief executive, the Times reported.
Wheeler was appointed by Obama but as head of an independent agency does not report to him.
Surveys show that Americans overwhelmingly do not want service providers to prioritize some sites over others. Doing so would mean charging content companies an additional fee for fast-lane access to consumers, according to the Times.
Obama's solution is for the commission to re-classify broadband carriers as common carrier utilities under Title II of the Communications Act.
Groups that oppose applying Title II point out that the law does actually allow for some prioritization. Rick Boucher of the Internet Innovation Alliance argues that some content, like Skype, needs to be prioritized otherwise it would get tied up in Internet congestion, the Times reported.
Wheeler said he will need time to make a decision.
Gene Kimmelman of the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, which backs the president's approach, says that the F.C.C. has all the information it needs "to take immediate action," the Times reported.
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