On network neutrality, the FCC’s chairman increasingly stands alone

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First came the tech companies, almost 150 of them. Then it was the investor class, clamoring that the Federal Communications Commission's plan for net neutrality would create an uneven playing field between established companies and young startups.

Protesters -- usually more common on the National Mall than at the FCC's secluded offices in Southwest Washington -- camped out at the commission's front doors.

To outsiders, the FCC may seem like a black box: We haven't even seen a draft of the proposed rules that have critics so alarmed. But on the inside of the commission, a charged political battle is playing out that could set the tone for the commission's future. And the fault lines are mostly leaving the agency's head, Tom Wheeler, cut off from the rest of his colleagues.

Chairman Wheeler has pushed back against claims that his draft rules on net neutrality would allow for an Internet fast lane. At a recent speech in Los Angeles, he told cable industry executives that he would not hesitate to regulate broadband companies more heavily if the situation called for it. That hasn't stopped a more recent rush of criticism -- including from within the FCC itself.

While it is less surprising to see Commissioner Ajit Pai criticize Chairman Wheeler, using the moment to undermine the Chairman’s early tenure, to see Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel break so publicly from Chairman Wheeler is unusual. The widening rifts suggest internal deliberations on net neutrality may either have broken down or never took place.

Some say the revolt -- not to mention the chairman's decision, for the most part, to ignore it -- is evidence of Chairman Wheeler’s isolation.

On network neutrality, the FCC’s chairman increasingly stands alone