Outgoing FCC chairman Tom Wheeler warned successors adopting a hands-off approach to network oversight would mean “moving backwards” and “removing rights” for consumers.

Making his final speech in the role, which he has held for three years, Wheeler outlined the positive impact of the regulator’s ‘open internet’ initiatives, including improving investment, connectivity, usage and provider revenues, as he specifically highlighted net neutrality and privacy rules championed during his watch.

Wheeler also warned successors to not be influenced by pressures from players in the market looking for looser regulation, arguing this would have a negative impact on consumers.

“We are at a fork in that road,” Wheeler said. “One path leads forward. The other leads back to re-litigating solutions that are demonstrably working.”

The outgoing chairman added: “Looking forward is an era of ISPs operating responsibly at both the edge and the core network under light touch regulation accompanied by a referee on the field to throw the flag when necessary. Looking backward takes away existing protections and throws into question ISP expansion into edge activities.”

Wheeler said venture investment in related businesses had risen 35 per cent since the launch of the FCC’s open internet rules in 2015.

“The open Internet is the law of the land. Tampering with the rules means taking away protections consumers and the online world enjoy today. What some describe as ‘free market economics’ cannot mean simply freeing incumbents of their responsibilities.

“A hands-off approach to network oversight is more than a shift in direction, it is a decision to remove rights and move backward,” Wheeler said.

The chairman is due to stand down on 20 January.