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FCC 'Open' Internet May Mean 'Paid'

Federal Communications Commission votes to consider broadband rules that could allow data fast lanes. Public invited to comment.

Internet, the First Amendment, or the capitalist system," he said. "Attempts to say otherwise are merely attempts to force the order into some self-serving narrative of disaster."

Disaster for broadband providers would be to be regulated as a public utility. The FCC has said it will consider classifying broadband service as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act, a suggestion that elicited strong objections from broadband companies.

On Tuesday, 28 CEOs from major US broadband Internet companies sent a letter to the FCC urging the agency not to classify them as a common carrier utility under Title II. Doing so, they claimed, would threaten network investment, innovation, and jobs.

Yet, an article published in Vox on Monday claims that figures floated through broadband industry lobbying misrepresent network investment as rising when it actually has been falling. Dwindling investment, writer Matthew Yglesias suggests, is consistent with lack of competition, a situation described in law professor Susan Crawford's book, Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age.

Summarizing the book, New York Times columnist David Carr last year wrote, "Ms. Crawford argues that the airwaves, the cable systems and even access to the Internet have been overtaken by monopolists who resist innovation and chronically overcharge consumers."

It is these "monopolists" -- mainly AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner, and Verizon -- that stand to gain if the FCC accepts paid prioritization. As it happens, Wheeler spent years as a lobbyist for the National Cable Television Association and then the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, before being tapped to head the FCC.

And yet Wheeler insists he wants to protect the Internet as a democratic medium. "Small companies and startups must be able to effectively reach consumers with innovative products and services and they must be protected against harmful conduct by broadband providers," he said in prepared remarks. "The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable."

Mozilla recently put forward a compromise proposal that involves distinguishing the relationship between ISPs and consumers from the relationship between ISPs and Internet companies. This latter relationship, Mozilla argues, should be subject to common carrier regulation.

In addition to deciding whether to allow paid prioritization and whether to classify broadband as a utility, the FCC also will consider whether to apply its rules to mobile broadband providers, in addition to fixed broadband providers.

Concerned individuals can see previously submitted comments and can submit their own comments about the FCC's proposal at Docket 14-28 or by emailing [email protected].

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