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US watchdog chief defends 'open Internet' rules

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Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was appearing before telecom industry leaders at the Mobile World Congress trade show, days after his institution approved the rules on February 26.

[BARCELONA] The head of the US communications watchdog on Tuesday defended its new "open Internet" rules against complaints by telecom operators that they give the government too much control.

Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was appearing before telecom industry leaders at the Mobile World Congress trade show, days after his institution approved the rules on February 26.

The ruling followed a years-long regulatory battle and set a new standard that treats all Internet traffic as equal, preventing Internet firms from charging fees for better access.

Backers said the move guarantees Internet users can roam freely online and prevent any effort to stifle expression, but critics complained it would give the government too much control.

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"This is no more regulating the Internet than the first amendment regulates free speech in our country," Mr Wheeler, himself a former technology lobbyist and entrepreneur, told an audience at the congress, the world's biggest mobile telecom fair.

"We remain absolutely steadfast, opposed to intergovernmental structures that seek to impose their will on how the Internet operates. We are for an open Internet."

The FCC ruling is likely to face fresh court challenges, and the Republican-controlled US Congress could seek to overturn or modify the regulations.

US cable giant Verizon had challenged the FCC proposals in the courts, complaining that they risked putting off investors.

Wheeler reached out to the telecom operators on Tuesday.

"We want network operators to have a revenue stream from consumer services that is unchanged the day after the regulation goes into effect," he said.

He said that next year the United States will hold a keenly awaited auction of powerful 600 megahertz frequency bands to mobile phone companies to meet growing demand for wireless capacity for smartphones.

AFP

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