Cable operators haven’t been shy about their opposition to the Federal Communications Commission’s use of Title II to enforce net neutrality regulations. But Comcast and Charter in particular have seized the opportunity this week to fully air – and reiterate – their grievances.
In filings submitted just before the FCC’s comment deadline on Monday, Comcast and Charter both decried what they say is an uncertain and destabilized “regulatory environment that discourages innovation” in service deliver and network infrastructure. Charter argues that “by leaving market participants unclear about which business models, services, or innovations regulators will permit, either today or in the future, this uncertainty undercuts the continuous private investment needed for the internet to flourish.”
And the pair were quick to give examples from their own businesses.
Comcast points to the “serious chilling effect on innovation” that stemmed FCC’s investigations into potential net neutrality violations by streaming services like its own Stream TV, T-Mobile’s BingeOn, and AT&T’s Sponsored Data. Regulatory uncertainty, paired with threats of “nine-figure sanctions” has had “a significant negative impact on product development, deployment, and time to market,” Comcast claims. Before launching new products, Comcast says ISPs must now conduct “extensive legal and regulatory review” in an attempt to mitigate the risks of regulatory reprimand and lawsuits – efforts that can be wasted thanks to the Open Internet Order’s “vague and unbounded general conduct standard.”
“Comcast has been forced to consider, for example, whether a practice that might provide end users with attractive new capabilities will be so burdened with regulatory rules and obligations as to undermine its viability; whether providing a new innovative internet-based service might subject Comcast to the obligation to provide that same service to any entity, which deters even experimenting with a new business model or service; and whether all of the company’s long-range planning must account for the possibility of destabilizing rate regulation,” the company writes.
Charter tells a similar tale of terror in its own filing, calling out its decision to “delay and then move more slowly with plans to launch a wireless service.”
“Although increased optimism about potential restoration of the ‘information service’ classification has allowed Charter to take cautious, renewed steps towards some of these innovations and investments in recent months, without further Commission action to return to a light-touch regulatory framework, the future of projects such as these – or at least the amounts that Charter can responsibly invest in them without taking on undue risk – remains uncertain,” Charter concludes.
Interestingly, the Federal Trade Commission also chimed in on the Title II NPRM Monday, saying it is fully capable of policing ISPs and protecting broadband consumers under its general consumer protection and competition authority.
“The proposal would allow the FTC to take action against BIAS providers engaged in ‘unfair competition,’ which would include, for example, entering into agreements that substantially reduce competition,” the FTC notes. “It would also allow the FTC to take action against ‘unfair or deceptive acts or practices,’ such as fraud, deceptive advertising, or unauthorized billing.”
But the FTC’s support of the Title II rollback doesn’t come without the reservations of some Commissioners. In her own filing, FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeney worries enforcement actions by that body could come too late.
“Even if the FTC were to detect the practice, investigate, and conclude that it was competitively harmful, we could not travel back in time to undo the harm to the excluded rival or to the competitive evolution of the marketplace,” she writes. “An up-front rule, by contrast, would be more likely to prevent the harm in the first place.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations