Broadband Industry: Title II Is Bad Because Only A Broken Congress Awash In Our Lobbying Cash Should Guide Net Neutrality
from the you-have-absolutely-no-credibility dept
Not too surprisingly, the broadband industry isn’t too happy about the White House’s surprise announcement that it appears to have grown a spine and is ready to go to war over reclassifying ISPs under Title II to protect net neutrality. ISPs have repeatedly made it clear that they’d sue any effort to impose real rules, and you could barely hear oneself over the noise of deep-pocketed carriers putting their legal teams, PR firms, and myriad of paid astroturfers, policy mavens, sockpuppets, fauxcademics and think tankers on high alert. The response from this status quo chorus is about what you’d expect, with most of them breathlessly insisting that Title II will kill puppies, ruin your nice dress shirt, totally disrupt your brunch plans, and destroy the Internet as we know it.
Verizon, for one, offered a fairly predictable response, insisting that Title II would destroy the Internet as we know it. To hear Verizon tell it, Title II simply wouldn’t survive a legal challenge (pro tip: to avoid a legal challenge, how about you don’t sue?):
“Reclassification under Title II, which for the first time would apply 1930s-era utility regulation to the Internet, would be a radical reversal of course that would in and of itself threaten great harm to an open Internet, competition and innovation. That course will likely also face strong legal challenges and would likely not stand up in court. Moreover, this approach would be gratuitous. As all major broadband providers and their trade groups have conceded, the FCC already has sufficient authority under Section 706 to adopt rules that address any practices that threaten harm to consumers or competition, including authority to prohibit ?paid prioritization.? For effective, enforceable, legally sustainable net neutrality rules, the Commission should look to Section 706.”
Amusingly, every time Verizon speaks on this issue they not only forget to mention that Title II governs huge swaths of their infrastructure with absolutely no ill effects (and actually some tax benefits for Verizon), but that they were the company that decided to sue over the very Section 706 rules they now profess to support. AT&T similarly ponied up a statement that first pretends that turning telecom regulators into spineless wimps is some kind of bi-partisan miracle accomplishment, then proceeds to insist that relying on a broken, bickering Congress flush with AT&T cash is the only way to move forward:
“Light-touch regulation has encouraged levels of investment unprecedented by any industry and spawned incredible innovation. Today?s action puts all of that at risk ? and puts it at risk not to remedy any specific harm that has occurred. Instead, this action is designed to deal with a hypothetical problem posed by certain political groups whose objective all along has been to bring about government control of the Internet. The White House is proposing to put the Internet and our economy at risk as a result of such political pressures.”
And by “political pressure,” AT&T means the four million people who wrote the FCC annoyed at the fact that AT&T now gets to literally write and purchase all telecom laws. By “government control of the Internet” AT&T means regulators that actually do their job, and by “unprecedented” levels of investment AT&T’s referring of course to their fixed-line network investment CAPEX that’s been dropping like a stone despite fifteen years of broadband industry deregulation.
Comcast to lobbyist David Cohen (who calls himself the company’s “Chief Diversity Officer” to skirt lobbying rules) offered a similar response that trots out ye olde “consumer protection kills network investment” talking point:
“Comcast and cable companies (along with the telcos) have led the broadband revolution, being the first to roll out America?s fastest broadband speeds across the country. As the White House itself acknowledged in its broadband report in 2013, this only happened because we were not subject to the intrusive regulatory regime designed for a different era.”
Again though, AT&T and Verizon in particular have almost-entirely frozen any meaningful deployment of “next gen” FioS and U-Verse services (with the exception of a few, scattered, wealthy high-end development communities), and overall network investment continues to decline. You’re meant to ignore the fact that this decline happened after fifteen years of dramatic deregulation of the broadband industry. You’re also meant to ignore the fact that these policy choices are giving cable a stronger broadband monopoly than ever before in many markets, because phone companies (despite being flush with government subsidies) are refusing to upgrade DSL customers, consciously driving those users to the same cable companies they used to compete with.
But I digress. Like AT&T, the cable industry’s top lobbying group, the NCTA (now run by former FCC boss Michael Powell), would similarly prefer it if the FCC left net neutrality to a dysfunctional Congress awash in telecom industry lobbying cash:
“The FCC is an independent agency and it should exercise independent judgment in crafting new rules. This is truly a matter that belongs in Congress and only Congress should make a policy change of this magnitude. Congress can easily unravel the legal and jurisdictional knot that has tied up the FCC in crafting sustainable open Internet rules, without resorting to rules of the rotary-dial phone era. We urge Congress to swiftly exercise leadership of this important issue.”
Because when you think about Congress, “easy,” “swift,” and “leadership” are certainly the very first words that jump to mind. As we’ve noted quite a few times now, in the absence of meaningful broadband competition (something that’s not getting fixed anytime soon), Title II with forbearance is the only sensible way forward if we want neutrality rules that not only protect consumers from aggressive duopolists, but help prevent future iterations of the FCC from over-reaching. Most of the ISP claims about the impact on investment are the same tired talking points they’ve trotted out for every cocktail party and policy issue for the last thirty years, and they’re going to need a new repertoire of scary bogeymen if they hope to keep the latest chapter in the net neutrality saga truly entertaining.