Trade commissioner wants to take net neutrality power from FCC


Supporters claim the rules ensure an open Internet and protect consumer choice. Internet users should be able to access a major corporate website or service at the same speed that they access a small personal blog, the supporters argue.

But Verizon has sued, arguing that the FCC overstepped its legal authority and is illegally restricting the business choices of Internet providers.

Verizon's lawsuit is currently pending before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Speaking on a panel at the Technology Policy Institute's annual conference, Wright said the FTC is "particularly well-suited" to take over net neutrality enforcement. The FCC has broad authority over many business practices of telecommunications companies, but the FTC focuses on preventing anti-competitive behavior and protecting consumers from deceptive practices.

Wright, a former law professor and economist, argued that discriminatory Internet practices that hurt consumers would largely already be prohibited under existing antitrust law. 

The FTC could also punish Internet providers who promise to manage their network one way, but then violate that promise.

Wright argued that the FTC would be a more flexible regulator than the FCC and that "categorical" bans on certain business practices rarely benefit consumers.

Many consumer advocates and Internet activists fear that the FTC would be unable to vigorously enforce net neutrality principles and that Internet providers would be allowed to favor certain websites over others, undermining the open, free nature of the Internet.

Kevin Leddy, a vice president for Time Warner Cable, and Robert Quinn, a vice president for AT&T, argued that their companies should be able to charge content providers for favorable access to Internet users.

"I think it's something we ought to be able to experiment with," Leddy said during the panel discussion.

ESPN has reportedly had talks with major cellular carriers to exempt its content from monthly data caps.

It is unclear how the FCC would react to such business deals. 

Wright suggested that he would support such business arrangements, saying they are "generally pro-competitive" and benefit consumers.