President Barack Obama today said he would like to see broadband reclassified under Title II, as a means of ensuring the Internet remains free and open.
Given the industry’s resistance to any regulation at all, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler decided earlier this year to push for Title II reclassification. The entire broadband industry has been implacably hostile to the idea, and in recent weeks, Wheeler has backed off, considering a so-called hybrid approach.
The President said the decision is the FCC’s to make, but his endorsement of Title II reclassification certainly strengthens Wheelers negotiating position.
The issue of reclassification arises from the issue of paid prioritization. AT&T has not engaged in paid prioritization and said it will not, but it appeared to be arguing in favor of paid prioritization when it said it might be interested in user-directed priority.
Verizon Wireless has said it will not engage in paid prioritization, and cable companies (individually, and together through the NCTA), insist they will not either.
What has happened, however, is that some ISPs, Verizon and Comcast being the largest among them, have signed peering agreements with Netflix. This is not paid prioritization, but Netflix is deliberately confusing the issue by claiming it is. Most network neutrality advocates have been charmed by Netflix’s claim.
Wheeler put himself between a rock and a hard place by taking advantage of this confusion. He does indeed want to ensure network neutrality – and Title II reclassification will help give him unambiguous authority to enforce net neutrality rules, but his primary interest in Title II reclassification is to give the FCC unambiguous authority to encourage competition, which is weak in many markets, and lacking in many more.
In a statement released alongside a video presentation, President Obama enumerated the following set of rules he would like the FCC to ensure:
- No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.
- No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.
- Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.
- No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.
“For almost a century, our law has recognized that companies who connect you to the world have special obligations not to exploit the monopoly they enjoy over access in and out of your home or business,” Obama said in his statement. “That is why a phone call from a customer of one phone company can reliably reach a customer of a different one, and why you will not be penalized solely for calling someone who is using another provider. It is common sense that the same philosophy should guide any service that is based on the transmission of information — whether a phone call, or a packet of data.”
Industry quickly pushed back. CTIA-The Wireless Association, called Obama’s proposal a “gross overreaction” that would ignore other viewpoints.
“CTIA and its members are committed to delivering an open mobile Internet, but applying last century’s public utility regulation to the dynamic mobile broadband ecosystem puts at risk the investment and innovation which characterizes America’s world-leading $196 billion wireless industry,” said the group’s president and CEO, Meredith Attwell Baker.
NCTA president and CEO Michael Powell wrote, “We are stunned the President would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the Internet and calling for extreme Title II regulation. The cable industry strongly supports an open Internet, is building an open internet, and strongly believes that over-regulating the fastest growing technology in our history will not advance the cause of Internet freedom. There is no dispute about the propriety of transparency rules and bans on discrimination and blocking. But this tectonic shift in national policy, should it be adopted, would create devastating results.
“Heavily regulating the Internet will lead to slower Internet growth, higher prices for consumers, and the threat of excessive intervention by the government in the working of the Internet. This will also have severe and profound implications internationally, as the United States loses the high ground in arguing against greater control of the Internet by foreign governments. There is no substantive justification for this overreach, and no acknowledgment that it is unlawful to prohibit paid prioritization under Title II. We will fight vigorously against efforts to impose this backwards policy.”
Powell insisted that any action on communications policy should properly be handled by Congress.
Both houses of Congress are now controlled by Republicans.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Photo credit: AP
Filed Under: Industry regulations