updated 04:05 pm EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
Wheeler says commission will examine peering deals, believes in open Internet
During a House of Representatives hearing on Tuesday, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler said that the commission would be looking into peering deals between content providers and ISPs that have recently been made. The arrangements, such as some high-profile ones between Netflix and providers such as Comcast and Verizon, have been a part of the net neutrality debate since Wheeler's proposal was first speculated on, and are seen by some as legal blackmail even as proponents argue that players such as Netflix abuse existing infrastructure.
Questions brought on during the hearing from Representative Doris Matsui (D-CA) spurred Wheeler to address deals with content providers and speedier access concerns. Matsui prompted Wheeler to explain what sort of impact these deals could have at the consumer level, and what Wheeler would say to Matsui's constituents.
"I would tell them that I felt that paid prioritization was commercially unreasonable and therefore could be dealt with," said Wheeler. The answer echoed several statements that have come from Wheeler recently, placing emphasis on the fact that the FCC would be analyzing any peering deal to avoid the appearance of paid prioritization. Changes in Wheeler's proposal before it had gone to vote reflect his updated stance, but it also has to fit within criteria that the FCC is currently seeking opinion on.
"On the question of peering, that is a separate issue that the commission needs to look at and will be looking at," said Wheeler. "But I would emphasize that I am a strong supporter of the open Internet."
Whether or not the FCC examination deals takes place, peering deals have been in effect for longer than the recent net neutrality debate. Content providers have long made deals with content companies outside of Netflix to ensure delivery of their content. Research from Dan Rayburn of StreamingMedia outlines just the sort of deals companies like Google, Apple and Amazon have with ISPs and tier-one networks such Level 3 and Akamai.
In an effort to show his support for open Internet standards, Wheeler offered a story to constituents to give an idea about his familiarity with the situation at the business level. Prior to coming to FCC, Wheeler had tried his hand at media businesses and was a venture capitalist. However, he notably made no mention of his connection to cable companies during his time as a lobbyist for them.
"When I was an entrepreneur, I was shut out of cable systems because they were closed networks. And I would come with a new product and couldn't get on. Then when I was a venture capitalist, before taking this job, the companies I was backing had to have access to the Internet, could only succeed if they had access to the Internet [on the scale of massive providers like Netflix]. So I would say to them that I believe in an open Internet, I've experienced closed networks and the harm they cause to innovation, and that I want to protect and preserve an open Internet."
Plans for how Wheeler and the FCC would review peering deals was not mentioned during the questioning. A policy could be drafted based on input from the commenting period of the proposal that was approved last week in commission vote. Footage of the hearing from CSPAN can be seen below. Questions from Representative Matsui to Chairman Wheeler begin at the 52-minute mark.