Internet Providers Strike Back on Net Neutrality
composite image by Re/code
In a surprise to no one, Internet providers warned federal regulators that treating broadband like phone lines will stunt future investments and service upgrades.
Twenty-eight CEOs representing companies which provide Internet service to a majority of Americans sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday warning the agency against adopting more regulations of broadband lines. AT&T’s Randall Stephenson, Verizon’s Lowell McAdam, Comcast’s Brian Roberts*, Cox Communication’s Patrick Esser and Brian Sweeney of Cablevision were among the signatories.
The letter, meant to strike back at net neutrality activists who have been pressing for the re-regulation of broadband lines, offers few new arguments in the debate but is a reminder to regulators that Internet providers won’t allow re-regulation of their lines without a fight.
“Reclassification of broadband Internet access offerings as Title II — telecommunications services — would impose great costs, allowing unprecedented government micromanagement of all aspects of the Internet economy,” the companies warned. “An era of differentiation, innovation, and experimentation would be replaced with a series of ‘Government may I?’ requests from American entrepreneurs. That cannot be, and must not become, the U.S. Internet of tomorrow.”
Broadband companies made similar arguments four years ago when the FCC last broached the idea of re-regulating (or reclassifying) Internet lines under Title II of the Communications Act, which was written with old phone networks in mind. That idea was quickly dropped after Internet providers complained to practically everyone in D.C.
Net neutrality advocates argue that regulating Internet lines under Title II would give the agency clear authority to stop providers from blocking websites or discriminating against competitors’ services.
That may be the case, but broadband providers are likely a bit more concerned about other things that Title II could allow the agency to do, including rate regulation of Internet lines or requiring broadband providers to offer wholesale access of their networks to smaller competitors.
Net neutrality advocates are worried about FCC Tom Wheeler’s new proposal for net neutrality rules which would allow Internet providers to pay for faster lanes of service to consumers. Opponents of the plan argue it would change the nature of the Internet by allowing deep-pocketed companies to buy fast-lane access while everyone else is left with slower, more congested service.
Amid complaints about his plan, Wheeler added more language in the draft proposal asking if Title II is a better way to approach the net neutrality issue. In their letter, the CEO’s dismissed the idea that Title II would prevent companies from offering priority service if they wanted to.
“In defending their approach, Title II proponents now argue that reclassification is necessary to prohibit “paid prioritization,” even though Title II does not discourage—let alone outlaw— paid prioritization models. Dominant carriers operating under Title II have for generations been permitted to offer different pricing and different service quality to customers,” the companies wrote.
The letter came as net neutrality activists kept up pressure on the agency to take the Title II route and shut down Wheeler’s fast-lanes proposal. A group of actors and musicians (including Eddie Vedder, Mark Ruffalo, and … Wallace Shawn? Inconceivable!) delivered a letter expressing their desire for the agency to go down the re-regulation road. “Unless the Commission restores strong nondiscrimination protections based on a solid legal framework, creativity, cultural commerce and free expression will suffer,” they said.
Meanwhile, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian put posters up at bus shelters across D.C. after his Crowdtilt campaign reached more than $20,000 in donations. He originally planned to buy advertising space on a billboard but opted for bus ads instead after discovering there aren’t any billboards near the FCC’s building in downtown D.C. (FCC commissioners also don’t take the bus — they have parking spaces in the building — but whatever.)
FCC officials are expected to vote on the proposal Thursday, after which the draft would be made public so people can finally see details of what Wheeler is proposing.
*Comcast’s NBCUniversal unit is an investor in Revere Digital, Re/code’s parent company.