Wheeler: Peering Not a Net Neutrality Issue But FCC Spokesman Says It Will Be Watched

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By Bryce Baschuk  

March 31--Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler threw cold water on Netflix Inc.’s plea to include network interconnection agreements in the Federal Communications Commission's upcoming net neutrality rulemaking.

Wheeler told reporters “peering is not a net neutrality issue,” following the commission's March 31 open meeting. “There is a matter of the open Internet and then there is the matter of interconnection among the various disparate pathways that become the Internet,” he said.

An FCC spokesman confirmed that peering and interconnection are not under consideration in the Open Internet proceeding. “But we are monitoring the issues involved to see if any action is needed in any other context,” the spokesman told Bloomberg BNA.

Net Neutrality Rules

The FCC is currently seeking to re-implement net neutrality rules to ensure that ISPs like Comcast Inc., AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. don't unfairly block or discriminate against Internet content providers like Netflix, Google Inc. and Amazon.com Inc. In January the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FCC's open Internet rules may not bar broadband ISPs from blocking or discriminating against Internet content transmitted across their networks (Verizon Commc'ns Inc. v. FCC, D.C. Cir., No. 11-1355, 1/14/14).

Netflix Chief Executive Officer Reed Hastings recently complained that ISPs are motivated to charge content providers fees for more direct connections to their servers so that consumers receive faster access to high-bandwidth web services like file sharing and streaming video. Hastings urged the FCC to implement “stronger net neutrality” rules in order to prevent ISPs from requesting high interconnection fees from edge content providers. Hasting's request followed his company's decision to pay for more-direct access to Comcast's broadband network.

“Part of the network compact is interconnection and peering is a $3.50 word in the Internet society for interconnection,” Wheeler said. The chairman has sought to preserve what he describes as the “network compact” between providers and consumers by ensuring that consumers continue to expect the same basic values offered by communications networks even as those networks undergo fundamental changes.

Netflix, Comcast Spat

“Without strong net neutrality, big ISPs can demand potentially escalating fees for the interconnection required to deliver high quality service,” Hastings said in a March 20 blog post. “The big ISPs can make these demands--driving up costs and prices for everyone else--because of their market position.” A Netflix spokesman had no comment on Wheeler's recent remarks.

Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen dismissed Hasting's argument as “essentially hogwash,” during a recent interview. “It has nothing to do with access to the Internet, it has nothing to do with net neutrality, it is not a matter of stronger net neutrality, which is what [Hastings] talked about.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com

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