The cable industry’s top lobbyist waded into the heated debate over net neutrality Tuesday, arguing that regulators need to avoid the temptation of imposing stricter rules on Internet lines.
The Internet has succeeded because it hasn’t been tightly regulated like the federal highway system or utilities such as electricity or water, said Michael Powell, head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, Tuesday at the group’s annual convention.
“Because the Internet is not regulated as a public utility, it grows and thrives, watered by private capital and a light regulatory touch. It does not depend on the political process for its growth, or the extended droughts of public funding,” Powell said.
It might sound appealing to regulate the Internet like a utility, Powell said, “but the potholes visible through your windshield, the shiver you feel in a cold house after a snowstorm knocks out the power, and the water-main breaks along your commute should restrain one from embracing the illusory virtues of public utility regulation.”
The argument was aimed squarely at public interest groups and Internet activists who are trying to convince Federal Communications Commission officials to re-regulate Internet lines in order to adopt enforceable net neutrality rules.
Powell’s appeal to regulators was a little strange, since FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has gone out of his way to avoid upsetting cable and phone companies by proposing re-regulation of Internet lines.
Instead, Wheeler unveiled new proposed net neutrality rules last week that would allow Internet providers to sell content providers fast lanes to consumer homes. Consumer groups and Internet activists decried the proposal, which they said would gut the concept of net neutrality, which is the idea that broadband providers should treat all Internet traffic equally.
On Tuesday, Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, called Wheeler’s plan a “misguided approach” that “violates the core net neutrality principles that you have publicly supported in the past.”
Wheeler’s aides argue the proposal wouldn’t encourage the development of a fast lane/slow lane Internet because regulators would control which fast-lane deals would be allowed. They said this is the only way to craft net neutrality rules that can stand up to a legal challenge.
Wheeler’s proposal won’t be released until next month, if the FCC goes ahead and opens the plan for public comment. But Wheeler may try to explain his proposal more clearly tomorrow, when he is scheduled to address the cable convention in his first public remarks since releasing the plan.