FCC’s O’Rielly: Net neutrality ruling won’t change marketplace

The recent federal court ruling overturning the Obama administration’s “net neutrality” rules will not radically change the market for Internet access, Republican Federal Communications Commission Michael O’Rielly said Monday.

Earlier this month, a federal court ruled that the FCC’s net neutrality rules — which prevented Internet providers like Verizon and Comcast from blocking or slowing down access to certain sites — overstepped the agency’s Congressionally-mandated boundaries.

While some worry that Internet providers will now begin charging bandwidth-heavy websites — like Netflix or Google — for better access to subscribers, O’Rielly said he does next expect to see that change.

“I’m not expecting the marketplace to change all that much going forward,” he said, citing ongoing conversations with Internet providers.

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Instead, O’Rielly — speaking Monday at the Hudson Institute — predicted “a pretty stable marketplace.”

“It’s in [the Internet providers] best interest to serve the customers,” he said. 

In a letter to investors last week, Netflix made a similar argument and said it would encourage its users to protest if an Internet provider started degrading access to the site.

O’Rielly said he “would be reluctant to impose new obligations in this space going forward” and declined to speculate as to how FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will respond to the court’s ruling.

O’Rielly also took issue with the court’s finding that the FCC has the authority to regulate Internet providers under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which defines the FCC’s authority.

That section of the law authorizes the FCC to regulate Internet providers to encourage broadband deployment. In striking down the net neutrality rules, the court said the FCC has some authority to regulate Internet providers but could not justify its net neutrality rules.

“I think that 706 has been abused” and “should be returned to its original intent,” O’Rielly said Monday.

The FCC’s authority over Internet providers was “intended by Congress to be rather narrow,” he said, citing his time as a Hill staffer during the 1996 Communications Act rewrite that led to the Telecommunications Act.

O’Rielly also commented on the FCC’s role in the ongoing national debate over government surveillance, including the controversial National Security Agency program that collects information about virtually all American phone calls.

As the regulator of the communications companies, some have called on the FCC to keep phone companies from selling customer data to third parties, including government agencies.

O’Rielly said the FCC will likely weigh in on the issue and stands ready to coordinate with other agencies, but he is “not sure this is something the Commission should spend a considerable amount of time on going forward.”

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