from the book-by-its-cover dept
A few years later, and it's not a stretch to argue that Wheeler may be the most startup and consumer-friendly boss the agency has ever seen (though given the agency's history as a telecom lap dog, that may not be saying all that much). In an interview with The Verge, Wheeler points out why many people (this writer included) pegged him wrong when he first arrived at the FCC:
...People didn’t know who I was. What was the cable industry like when I was lobbying for them? They were the underdog. They were the folks trying to climb up the hill, and broadcasters and telephone companies tried to stop them. What was the wireless industry like when I was there? They were the young guys coming up the side of the mountain. What was I doing when I was a VC? I was funding startup companies that were challenging the incumbents.The problem Wheeler faces now is finishing what he started, since net neutrality rules don't mean much if the agency isn't willing to enforce them. The FCC made the decision not to ban the practice of zero rating when crafting its net neutrality rules, instead claiming it would tackle anti-competitive behavior on a "case by case" basis under the neutrality "general conduct" rule. And despite Verizon and Comcast now using usage caps to give their own streaming video platforms a distinct market advantage, the FCC has yet to really act.
My heart has always been with the insurgents, not the incumbents. And nobody stopped to really look at that — they just wanted to make this judgement. But I’m the same guy I always was.
Wheeler continues to insist that the agency is thoroughly investigating the issue before taking action, telling The Verge the goal with zero rating is "regulatory agility":
"You can see where it’s helpful if it reduces cost and increases choice. You can see where it’s harmful if it discourages and discriminates. So it’s the poster child for why we wanted to make sure we had a general conduct rule in place. What we’re doing right now is looking at the various schemes that have been developed, and we’ve asked folks on multiple sides of the issue to come in and sit down and help us understand so we can think our way through this.It remains entirely possible Wheeler chooses not to act on zero rating whatsoever. After all, the agency has a history of treating usage caps (despite their obvious anti-competitive implications) as little more than "creative pricing," and Wheeler's on-record calling T-Mobile's zero rating of some video services "innovative" and "pro competition". Public pressure's also not particularly high, since the majority of the public doesn't understand the potential threat zero rating poses to a level playing field. And Wheeler may not even get to make a decision: the rules could easily be gutted by mega-ISP lawsuits or the upcoming Presidential election.
I think the key to the Open Internet Order is the concept of regulatory agility. And zero rating is a classic example of that. I can argue there are some aspects of it that are good, and I can argue there’s some aspects of it that are not so good. The job of the regulator is to figure out, "Okay, now how do I deal with this?"
So while Wheeler's certainly been a boon to a telecom sector plagued by regulatory capture for generations, this is very much an unfinished story. If Wheeler refuses (dingo!) or is prevented from addressing the anti-competitive (ab)use of broadband usage caps, the entire fight for a neutral Internet could find itself kicked back to the starting line.