Not long after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and his liked-minded commissioners voted on Thursday in favor (3-2) of Net Neutrality rules to regulate Internet service providers, the flag dropped on filing lawsuits that will vigorously oppose those new rules.
While Net Neutrality proponents were giddy yesterday—Wheeler called it “the proudest day of my public policy life”—service providers, such as Comcast, vowed to file lawsuits and work with Congress against reclassifying broadband service as a public utility.
“Today is a red-letter day for Internet freedom,” Wheeler said during Thursday’s vote, but Republicans were quick to reply that the new rules would throw the industry into uncertainty amid speculation that nothing meaningful would happen until after the next presidential election.
The FCC’s new rules also included the provision that ISPs can’t “throttle” traffic while allowing others to pay for speedier lanes. Opponents of Net Neutrality were chagrined that the FCC chose to regulate the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which dates back to FDR’s era.
“Only action by Congress can fix the damage and uncertainty this FCC order has inflicted on the Internet,” Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said in a statement. Thune is expected to lead the Congressional opposition to the new rules, starting with a hearing on March 18.
In other words, to quote musician John Fogerty, it will “Be a long dark night before this thing is done.”
Comcast executive vice president of Comcast David Cohen wrote in a company blog yesterday that lawsuits to nullify yesterday’s FCC ruling were “inevitable.” Under Cohen’s direction, Comcast’s regulatory team has thrown millions at opposing the FCC’s new rulings. (Comcast’s policy team has also worked overtime on lobbying for its $45 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable.)
“After today, the only ‘certainty’ in the Open Internet space is that we all face inevitable litigation and years of regulatory uncertainty challenging an Order that puts in place rules that most of us agree with,” Cohen wrote. “We believe that the best way to avoid this would be for Congress to act. We are confident this can be done in a bi-partisan manner with a consensus approach that accomplishes the common goals of stakeholders on all sides of the open Internet debate without the unnecessary focus on legal jurisdiction and the unnecessary regulatory overhang from 80 year-old language and provisions that were never intended to be applied to the Internet.”
Cohen also echoed Comcast CEO Brian Roberts’ comments on an earnings call earlier this week.
“Obviously there’s been a lot of discussion around broadband, the regulatory environment, so let me just say our past comments on the unnecessary risks associated with applying 1930s style regulations to something as dynamic as the Internet remain the same,” Roberts said on Tuesday. “We are absolutely for a free and open Internet. We even agree with what President Obama and (FCC) Chairman Wheeler say should be in the rules; transparency, no discrimination, no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritization and we’ve been consistent in communicating our agreement with those principals.”
The reactions from most major cable operators yesterday fell along similar lines, with the exception of Cablevision CEO James Dolan saying his company was “sort of neutral” during Wednesday’s earnings call.
Here’s a look some of the responses from yesterday’s FCC ruling:
Charter Communications—”Charter supports net neutrality because our subscribers expect nothing less than a free and open Internet. This means that Charter does not block, slow down or prioritize Internet traffic. However, the rules adopted today will add fees to customer bills, create regulatory uncertainty and lead to years of litigation that, together, will slow the progress and development of faster broadband for our subscribers. Rather than operate within this outdated and overly broad regulatory regime, Charter looks forward to working with Congress to pass a new open Internet law that protects consumers, provides certainty for investors and freedom for innovators.”
NCTA CEO and President Michael Powell—“Today, the FCC took one of the most regulatory steps in its history. It began regulating the Internet, abruptly abandoning a bipartisan national commitment to limited government involvement that has reigned for decades.
“This extraordinary action has been justified by the desire to preserve net neutrality, but the FCC Order goes well beyond that reasonable objective. The FCC has taken the overwhelming support for an open Internet and pried open the door to heavy-handed government regulation in a space celebrated for its free enterprise. The Commission has breathed new life into the decayed telephone regulatory model and applied it to the most dynamic, free-wheeling and innovative platform in history.
“Since the dawn of broadband Internet service, consumers have enjoyed a fully open Internet. Our industry has always been committed to providing that experience to our customers. The day after this Order becomes law, consumers will see nothing different in their experience. However, they surely will bear the burden of new taxes and increased costs, and they will likely wait longer for faster and more innovative networks since investment will slow in the face of bureaucratic oversight.
“With years of uncertainty and unintended consequences ahead of us, it falls to Congress to step in. Working together, our legislative leaders can protect an open Internet, while ensuring that it remains free for innovation without government permission and that it continues to create strong incentives to deploying ever-faster broadband to every American. The FCC has taken us in a distressing direction. We must now look to other branches of government for a more balanced resolution.”
Mediacom Communications—“The Internet is the greatest economic engine of our lifetime, and its growth has been driven by market forces that have produced an astoundingly open online world full of innovation. As a leading broadband provider, Mediacom has always ensured an open Internet experience for our customers. We will continue to do so because the growth and popularity of the Internet is directly tied to the free movement of information between its users.
“Under the leadership of Presidents Clinton and Bush, the Federal government allowed the Internet to flourish largely free of regulation. Unfortunately, two decades of intelligent and successful policy decisions are on the verge of being tossed aside by the Obama Administration. Today, the FCC reversed course on years of unprecedented technological advancements by deciding to regulate the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
“The legal reclassification of a service this critical to the economic and cultural fabric of our nation should not be left to three unelected government officials. It now falls on Congress to wrestle the Internet free from the grip of the obsolete bureaucratic model being imposed by the FCC. Working together in a bi-partisan manner, our elected leaders in Washington must endeavor to protect the open Internet while avoiding heavy-handed regulations that stifle innovation, inhibit infrastructure investment, and unfairly shift costs to hard-working American families.”
Pro Title II comments (perhaps with “Ding dong the witch is dead” playing in the background) included:
Adam Green, Progressive Change Campaign Committee co-founder—“This victory sends a message that big ideas are possible and worth fighting for, even if the battle field is uphill and the opponent is very powerful.
“Today’s vote is the fruition of a decade-long fight by those of us who believe in preserving the Internet as a level playing field. Protecting Net Neutrality through reclassification is the kind of big, bold idea that is hugely popular with Americans of all political stripes. “
Greenlining Institute Energy and Telecommunications Policy Director Stephanie Chen— “The FCC got this right. Without today’s action we were heading toward a new form of redlining, a sort of digital Jim Crow, that would have devastated communities of color and low-income consumers across the board. Treating broadband as a telecommunications service – that is, as the essential public service it is – is the only sure way to make sure we never face digital redlining.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Filed Under: Industry regulations