FCC's Tom Wheeler Says He'll Ask For Public Comment On Whether It's Appropriate To Reclassify Broadband

from the well-now-it-gets-a-bit-more-interesting dept

This morning, a bunch of Senators joined with over 150 internet companies and over 100 venture capitalists to ask the FCC’s Tom Wheeler not to make a big mistake with his “open internet” rules and enable a multi-tier internet, where broadband companies with tremendous market power can create fast lanes.

Wheeler has now responded to that original letter from over 150 internet companies (disclosure: we were one of the companies that signed that letter). While reiterating his previously stated promises that he really wants to protect an open internet, he also dropped this tidbit:

The item we will vote on next week seeks input on the best way to accommodate this goal. We will specifically ask whether Title II or Section 706 of the Communications Act is the best way to address the matter of Internet openness.

That’s a bit of a shift. All indications before were that, at this stage, the focus was entirely on Section 706, with Wheeler merely promising to hang onto Title II in his back pocket. Putting it up front and center, and asking for public comment on the use of Title II reclassification (which would make broadband providers subject to common carrier rules) is a big deal. Wheeler further stated that he’s really committed to this based on his own earlier experiences. While many have (rightfully) pointed out that Wheeler is a former cable industry lobbyist, he notes that he’s also been on the other side of networks with monopolistic powers:

As an entrepreneur who started companies that offered new programs and services to cable companies, I was subject to being blocked from access to cable networks. It is an experience that made me especially wary of the power of closed networks to innovate on their own agenda to the detriment of small entrepreneurs.

To a very large extent, this experience has been the backbone of my long-time support for the Open Internet. It is the openness of the Internet that makes it special. My job at the FCC is to protect that openness, and the innovation and expression it allows to flourish.

Of course, some of his previous statements have suggested that he still doesn’t understand the full nature of the problem (interconnection and the lack of competition). So it remains to be seen what really happens. However, it’s encouraging to see that Wheeler seems to be progressively moving closer to making Title II a legitimate option.

Of course, as that gets closer and closer to the table, the insane freakout from broadband providers and their (very powerful) lobbyists will reach a fever pitch. This fight is far from over, but it’s getting more interesting day by day.

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Comments on “FCC's Tom Wheeler Says He'll Ask For Public Comment On Whether It's Appropriate To Reclassify Broadband”

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31 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

whatever gets voted on will be a shadow of it’s former self. there’s no way that the lobbyists are going to allow anything their masters dont want. we’ve seen it with the bills in the senate. what starts out as having some teeth usually ends up like an OAP, all gums and nothing to bite with!! why the ones proposing the original bills etc always give in, i dont know, especially when everyone knows that competition is the key to good service

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: FCC complaints

I second the request for a link — maybe when the May 15 “publication” occurs it will become available. I wonder if the FCC has ever been flooded with letters from normal people? It’s hard not to see Wheeler’s letter as a bit of backpedaling on his part. Maybe he didn’t expect such push back from the tech sector, nor such generally bad press. If this is a case, maybe we actually can effect change; or, at least, seize some initiative. Rather than having the public fight bad rules created by the ISPs, we can watch the ISPs burn money trying to water down good rules stemming from public sentiment.

That One Guy (profile) says:

An important distinction:

Sure he says he’ll ask, but will he be willing to listen if the response isn’t what he’d already planned on?

Still, openly mentioning Title II like that as an ‘option’ will certainly have the broadband providers running around like headless chickens for the next while, that should be nice and entertaining(if potentially rather frustrating and annoying, as they throw their money and influence around like crazy, doing their best to drown out any voice other than theirs).

Andypandy says:

Re: An important distinction:

Is this not what the Politicians and Wheeler want, If the ISP’s believe there is even a small chance of title 11 they will be throwing money at the politicians and lobbying groups. I wonder if Wheeler wants a nice big yacht with the house he wants to buy from the bribes he will receive just talking about title 11 might enable him to not only afford a nice big yacht but maybe a few new top of the range cars too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: An important distinction:

With regard to the Comcast/TWC merger maybe the FCC is waiting for all the public scrutiny over this wares thin and people forget about it before they finally approve the merger when no one is looking. By then the public has already been burned and no amount of public scrutiny will undo the merger.

fgoodwin (profile) says:

Re: An important distinction:

I sent the FCC mailbox some comments and got an acknowledgement email.

Whether that means an actual human looked at it, I can’t say. I think the FCC will listen to reasonable comments that are more than simple hyperbolic ventilation of the author’s lungs. I note that 99% of the 10,000+ comments received so far are little more than spam, which I hope the FCC ignores.

Simply spamming the FCC with the very same one liner doesn’t do the NN cause any good.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Flexibility

And yet he was still fine with becoming a lobbyist for them. The man seems suspiciously flexible.

To be fair, I’m pretty sure you have the timeline backwards. He was a lobbyist for the cable companies in their earlier years, when they were actually the upstarts, challenging the networks dominance. It was only after that, that he became an entrepreneur who then had to face the monster he partially helped to create…

Anonymous Coward says:

The whole idea behind the natural monopoly argument is that the government grants a service exclusive access to a market but, in return, the government gets to set the prices and limit profits so that these services only make a normal (and not an economic) profit. The reason for this is that if the service gets to set the prices they will naturally set the prices to maximize profits and not to optimize consumer surplus. Now this is fine in a free market capitalistic market but in a market where the government sets monopolies this is not acceptable because it hurts consumers by resulting in a worse service for a higher price. Government established natural monopolists should not be for profit entities, they should be regulated entities with the intent of serving consumers and only making a normal profit.

fgoodwin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Cities and states cannot legally grant exclusive monopolies to cable or telephone companies.

Exclusive cable franchises were banned by the 1992 Cable Act. The 1996 Telecom Act did the same for exclusive telephone certificates (a “certificate” allows a telephone company to do business in a state and is granted by the state PUC).

I’m not saying there aren’t “de facto” monopolies, especially in cable (at least telephone companies are required by law to lease components of their networks to competitors; that requirement has never applied to cable companies).

But there is no law that prevents a google (for example) from overbuilding an existing cable or telephone network.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“I’m not saying there aren’t “de facto” monopolies, especially in cable”

Nearly every cable market is a monopoly. Glad that you recognize the problem.

“But there is no law that prevents a google (for example) from overbuilding an existing cable or telephone network.”

Actually, there are tons of laws that collectively have that effect. Regardless of that, my question is: so what? The public bought and paid for the existing cable and telephone lines. Everyone should be able to make use of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Exclusive cable franchises were banned by the 1992 Cable Act.”

Not exactly. Here are some relevant links

“Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson of the district court in Washington did support regulation of cable rates by the 1992 Cable Act saying that horizontal-integration limitation between cable operators and broadcast stations with local cable system was intended to promote competition by preventing concentration of cable systems connected under the hands of a few companies. On the other hand, the Judge stated that Cable Act hadn’t specified limits on horizontal integration thus, ordered the Federal Communications Commission to come up with regulations.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cable_Television_Consumer_Protection_and_Competition_Act_of_1992#Provisions

“In areas served by a cable operator, Section 628(c)(2)(D) generally prohibits exclusive contracts for satellite cable programming or satellite broadcast programming between vertically integrated programming vendors and cable operators. “

https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2007/03/01/E7-3520/implementation-of-the-cable-television-consumer-protection-and-competition-act-of-1992-development

From my understanding the act doesn’t prevent municipalities from granting cableco monopolies but what it does is it prevents a single entity from having a monopoly on both cable and broadcasting in the same area at the same time. As pointed out by others on this blog (and mentioned in the Wikipedia article) it also either requires cable companies to retransmit local broadcasting signals (at a statutory fee) or to negotiate a retransmission license with broadcasters (only if they wish to carry the signal) depending on which of the two options the broadcasters choose. That is if the broadcasters choose the former the cable provider must carry the signal and they pay a statutory fee. If the broadcasters choose the later the cable providers may choose whether or not they wish to carry the signal and if they wish to they can negotiate a license with the broadcasters.

For more details see

http://www.fcc.gov/encyclopedia/evolution-cable-television

“The 1996 Telecom Act did the same for exclusive telephone certificates”

Which doesn’t preclude local cableco monopolies.

Anonymous Coward says:

The R’s hate regulation, no matter how appropriate. With millions of dollars worth of lobbyists fanning the flames of anti-regulation- it is hard to see this happening.

Think of the bumper sticker: “NO GOVERNMENT TAKEOVER [REGULATION] OF THE INTERNET”

Obviously the issue is far more nuanced than that, but with the US electorate- nuance matters little. The best slogan usually wins.

Anonymous Coward says:

"Wheeler dealer?"

It’s OUR internet, NOT AT&T’s or TW’s or Wheeler’s. It needs to be open to be of any use at all. Anything less is just an anti-competitive limit of access too all. Any limits to access should automatically cause the provider to revert to common carrier status, with the incumbent regulations. There, fixed that!

Anonymous Coward says:

So we have to wait until Tom Wheeler publishes the Open Internet proposal on May 15th, and then the American People get to vote for Title II classification of land-line ISPs?

After seeing Verizon’s ‘Sponsored Data’ plan, and Comcast letting their interconnections saturate with Tier 1 transit providers. I’m definitely voting for Title II classification.

jimb (profile) says:

Classify the ISP’s as common carriers. Then allow municipalities to start ‘public-owned’ fiber internet access companies if they desire. Perhaps if there was -any- competition in broadband access prices would drop and speeds would increase. While I’m fantasizing about Google Fiber, its depressing to read about what the internet consumers in South Korea take for granted.

TestPilotDummy says:

FCC to regulate POWER and FREQUENCY in PUBLIC INTEREST

Wonderin why are they touching our twisted pairs and coax?
Cause that net neutrality CRAP.
Remember; they didn’t have regulatory authority.

Now the POTUS fascists (who wiped the Original FCC Mission Statement) now are expanding with their mission creep.

Worst nightmare, attacking alt media now.

Coises (profile) says:

Re: Dear Tom Wheeler,

?What you should be asking is whether there’s a valid competition reason not to reclassify the last-mile ISPs as common carriers or utilities.?

On the mark, except change ?ISPs? to ?providers.?

Remember that before 2005, independent ISPs had equal access to DSL lines (though not to cable or fiber). ISPs can exist in a competitive market; it?s only because the FCC has allowed last-mile providers to use their natural monopoly to control access to their lines that there is essentially no such market.

At present and for the foreseeable future, physical lines can deliver speeds and capacities unattainable by other means; likewise, fiber outclasses coax and coax outclasses twisted pair. It should not matter what the last mile is delivering. There needn?t be a monopoly on Internet service, or television packages, or video on demand, or voice communication or any other kind of one- or two-way information flow, just because there is a monopoly on the physical infrastructure.

Correct me if I?m wrong, economists, but I believe one of the basic steps to take when confronted with a natural monopoly is to isolate it, both to keep it from using its monopoly power to distort other markets and to keep regulators? jobs as clear, simple and limited as possible.

Split them apart! If you provide the line, you should be agnostic as to what travels over it. If you provide an information, communication or entertainment service, you shouldn?t have any control over the lines.

fgoodwin (profile) says:

Re: Re: Dear Tom Wheeler,

You are correct that, prior to 2005, DSL had to “line share” whereas cable and fiber did not.

Think about that for a moment. Everybody knows that DSL cannot support the bandwidth that cable and fiber can. Yet DSL was the one technology that was saddled with a sharing requirement, while cable and fiber got a “get out of jail free” card?

It never made any sense to me. Which is why, in 2005, the FCC decided to relieve DSL of that burden, to put it on a more equal footing with fiber and coax. Of course, putting all technologies on a equal footing was the right thing to do, but the FCC went in the wrong direction.

They should have made fiber and cable utility services just like DSL was, and forced all three to line share.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is a diversion tactics.

Telcos want lucrative segmentation, they want to be able to bill both the content creators and content consumers, and they will get it… unless an ACTA-like very vocal movement appears, block them and preserve the far-from-ideal status quo, or worse, push them into the “dumb pipes” direction.

So, yes, the FCC will ask.
But the US population tend to be very trusting, unconfrontational, with the attention span of a drunk toddler with Alzheimer. All it take is a guy in a suit to pinky-swear that he’ll safeguard the public interest, and everyone go back to watching funny cat videos.
So that will probably be enough to keep the majority quiet until it’s too late.

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