Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler disputed the idea that new net neutrality regulations could spur foreign governments to clamp down on their own online networks.
Wheeler said the FCC's new Internet plan regulates the Internet in as much as the First Amendment regulates free speech. The United States remains wholly against strict governmental regulation of the Internet, he said.
"We remain absolutely steadfast opposed to intergovernmental structures that seek to impose their will on how the Internet operates. Our position is we are for an open Internet," Wheeler said during a talk at the Mobile World Congress in Spain.
"That is not the regulation of the Internet," he added. "That is a very simple statement that says no government and no private entity will block the people's access to use the network as a vehicle of expression and innovation."
During the conference in Barcelona, Wheeler said he has explained the point to his counterparts around the world.
"The governments of the world understand it," he said. "I've met with many of them here. [They] understand this is not regulating the Internet."
Wheeler's proposal, which was approved last week, seeks to reclassify broadband Internet as a telecommunications service, in order to give the commission broader authority to crack down on abuse.
The authority is meant to prevent Internet service providers like Verizon or Comcast from blocking or slowing traffic to any website or application, while also banning deals between companies for faster access.
Service providers and Republicans are strongly against reclassification, arguing that the utility-like regulations could hurt innovation. Others have said the new authority would muddle the United States' message around the world.
“It becomes a lot more difficult for us to go on the international stage and tell governments: ‘Look, we want you to keep your hands off the Internet,’ ” Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai said recently.
Former GOP Commissioner Robert McDowell made a similar point in a recent op-ed, arguing, “The Obama administration is signaling to the world that more government regulation of the Internet should be the norm.”
During the foreign trip, Wheeler has taken pains to characterize the new rules as protections for consumers, which are enforced using a regulatory framework that has governed mobile voice service for decades.