Wheeler: Obama didn't influence net neutrality vote

FCC's Wheeler: You got your facts wrong
FCC's Wheeler: You got your facts wrong   

Federal Communications Commission chief Tom Wheeler told CNBC on Tuesday that President Barack Obama didn't get him to vote for net neutrality.

Critics have said the Democratic chairman of the commission had not considered the regulation until Obama came out in favor of the regulations. They point to the fact that Wheeler pursued a lighter touch last year.

"I've always been for a strong and open Internet," Wheeler told CNBC's "Squawk Box." "Over the summer the original proposal we put out asked questions about Title II, but also proposed another approach. Over the summer I began to realize that that approach was not leading us to the right answer."

Obama gave a speech on Nov. 10 endorsing the rules to classify Internet service providers as utilities under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.

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Wheeler said he changed his approach after talking to consumers, innovators and venture capitalists and after considering what solution would be "commercially reasonable" for Internet service providers. That led him to develop ways to use Title II to address concerns over net neutrality, he said.

Net neutrality is the policy of treating all Internet traffic equally, rather than blocking or imposing "tolls" on access to faster service.

Enshrining net neutrality in FCC rules gives the agency the ability to regulate the providers like telephone line operators. Among other things, the FCC will be able to prevent providers from blocking legal websites, slowing down traffic to specific sites or allowing faster access to other services, such as Netflix or Amazon Instant Video.

The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines last week to apply Title II to cable and telecom companies that provide Internet service.

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Asked whether he would have preferred for Obama to remain silent on the issue until Wheeler made his position clear, he said presidents have always commented on major FCC decisions.

Wheeler insisted there are two components of net neutrality: keeping the Internet open and fair and making sure the companies who build the networks have the revenue base to continue investing in infrastructure.

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He reiterated that the FCC would not regulate rates, impose tariffs or force companies to unbundle services. Title II designation gives the FCC the power to set prices, but the agency can defer that privilege.

"The reality is that the day after our order goes into effect, the revenues for consumer services for Internet service providers will be exactly as they were the day before," he said. "We want those revenues to be there, we want those revenues to generate a good return so that the operators then have a reason to continue to expand the network, and particularly to expand and to compete with each other."

Responding to concerns that the FCC could later use Title II to regulate prices, Wheeler noted that the same provision has been in place for the wireless industry for 22 years and the FCC has never interfered with pricing.

In that time, the wireless industry has invested $300 billion in infrastructure, he said.

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Disclosure: CNBC's owner, Comcast, was among the opponents of the new net neutrality rules.