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.

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Companies: at&t, comcast, ncta, verizon

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Comments on “Broadband Industry: Title II Is Bad Because Only A Broken Congress Awash In Our Lobbying Cash Should Guide Net Neutrality”

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TruthHurts says:

AT&T made one truthful comment in their statement...

“levels of investment unprecedented”

They are correct in that this is the first period of time where there has been almost NO investment in infrastructure, it’s all been spent on malvertising and lawyer antics to make people think they’ve been upgrading, when all they’ve been doing is traffic shaping and legal shenanigans like redefining the english language so that terms like “unlimited” mean anything but “unlimited”.

This needs to stop…. Immediately….

The only way to do it is to force all Internet backbones and last mile providers as well as cellular towers to Title II, common carrier and let any company deliver offer connectivity from anywhere with pricing on par with the 3rd party long distance carriers of old.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: AT&T made one truthful comment in their statement...

It can’t just be Title II. There also has to be enforced Local Loop Unbundling, open auditing of the data transmission at interconnects, remove suspicious behaviours (such as not opening all interconnect points at a single node) and then reduce the number of subsidies given through Title II.

Oh, and ensure that each of these carrier live up to their contractual obligations.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Isn't this exactly what we'd expect Comcast to say?

Comcast has no reputation for honesty, and in fact any statement they make is thoroughly vetted by their marketing department.

They’ve even made it clear they don’t deal with human beings as human, but as wallets that need to be pried open and drained.

We’ve seen an honest portrayal of their position:
We here at your local high-speed internet and cable provider don’t believe in customer satisfaction. We believe in money. Pools of money.

Rocco Maglio (profile) says:

Obama awash in telecom money too

Obama received quite a bit of money from telecom industry, Including fundraisers at the Comcast/NBC chairman’s home. I would say the President is also awash in this money. The chairman of the FCC we are turning this over to regulate is a former telecom lobbyist. If President Obama does a good job with net neutrality I will be impressed, but he has been better with words than actions.

Anonymous Coward says:

We’ve already had demonstrations of how investment is being made in broadband infrastructure. The US has some of the highest prices for some of the slowest internet speeds of developed countries.

Nor can we forget the tiff over NetFlix where everyone else is at fault. We have Level 3 saying that all that was necessary was to plug in another one or two 10 gig port routers to fix the problem and even offering to buy and install the hardware themselves to cure this Netflix issue. So much for hardware upgrades.

But notice when Google Fiber comes to town and all the incumbent telcos are threatened on their business models suddenly they can get out, provide that hardware upgrade and even lower the price to stay competitive.

I notice lots of gum flapping by those same telcos but nothing in the line of examples. As much as we are lagging behind South Korea and Japan, I think we have a fine history of where we are going in the present day state. There’s no direction but down without meaningful competition and that is the one thing sorely lacking today.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

But notice when Google Fiber comes to town …

Wouldn’t it be funny if G. decided to take their “Don’t be evil” motto to the hilt and decided, “Fuck it, we’re going to make a mission of this. We’re going to roll out Gb fiber nationwide, one piece at a time. These losers are making USA look stupid, and we’re sick of watching it.”

Go G! Do it! 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

let’s face it, competition is the thing that is most needed, and not just in the broadband sector either! the problem is that congress are as gutless as ever when it comes to bringing in any sensible legislation because not only would that be for the good of the people and the country, it would be to the detriment of the members! i doubt if there are more than a couple in congress who are actually even interested or bothered about doing the job they were elected to do and as for looking after the people who voted them into the positions they hold, they are so far down the list as to be out of sight and out of earshot!!
strange though how things change. a short while ago, Verizon was going all out to get ‘net neutrality’ squashed. after achieving that and pointing to wanting title 2 status, as soon as there is the probability of getting it, it wants to sue every fucker who even thinks it!

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

When it comes down to it, and this applies to more than just this particular ‘fight’, what regulations or rules or laws are on the books are utterly meaningless, if real punishments for non-compliance also aren’t on the books, and most importantly consistently enforced. If a company, individual or agency knows that even if they get caught violating the regulations/rules/laws nothing will happen to them, they have no incentive not to violate them.

Only when real, consistent punishments are in place and enforced does what’s on the books actually matter.

Anonymous Coward says:

The ISP’s want to take their ball and go home? Good riddance. We see what they are using our hard earned money for, and it isn’t building out the infrastructure. They provide access to the internet, they are not the internet. Let us get someone who knows how to do it right if the current players can’t, perhaps the Swiss or South Koreans. +1 Mr. Obama for your thoughts on the subject, good to see we agree on things sometimes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Like government bureacrats are more accountable than public companies

I don’t buy any of this “add more regulation” to fix something.

The internet has flourished *because* there was little in the way of government interference. Care to dispute that? And somehow it has suddenly become un-innovative because it lacks utility-grade regulation?

I fail to see how adding unaccountable government regulatory bureaucrats will add more accountability and transparency.

Once the government gets involved you lose accountability because you can’t sue the government. You can sue a company, but if they can point to regulatory requirements for why they do something you have no further recourse.

You can publicly shame a company into changing how they do things, and you can do it from your home with a website that you set up in a day. Bureaucrats don’t care what people think or say about them — because you’ll have to fill out 50 Vogon Forms in triplicate (hand-written only!) requesting permission to create a website to criticize them first.

Title II regulation on the internet is about Big Government control, rent-seeking, and surveillance. It is NOT about net neutrality.

Its exchanging slippery eels for snakes. They don’t slip anymore, but they bite.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Like government bureacrats are more accountable than public companies

The internet has flourished *because* there was little in the way of government interference. Care to dispute that? And somehow it has suddenly become un-innovative because it lacks utility-grade regulation?

Ah. An idealist. I’m an idealist too. In our perfect world, market forces wouldn’t have allowed this situation to come up in the first place.

Unfortunately, this is what we’ve got to work with at this stage. A system cobbled together by connected corporations who’ve manipulated the system through regulatory capture and bribing politicians and a revolving door between captains of industry and regulatory agencies. We’ll be dead long before we see our perfect world. In the absence of that, we’re left with the ham-fisted sledgehammer approach of banging on the pendulum to swing it a little bit this way, then a little bit that way, etc.

I think it’s silly too, but we just get to play the game. They’re not interested in our opinion on how the game should be played. This way lets them show off and milk the situation for the power and prestige they get out of it while allowing us to pay something to get anything.

The ham fisted sledgehammer approach is all we’re given to work with at this point in time. Expecting otherwise is tilting at windmills. We haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of winning this one, not today or anytime soon.

Anonymous Coward 2 says:

Re: Re: Like government bureacrats are more accountable than public companies

The answer to bad speech is not censorship, its more free speech.

The answer to bad regulation is not MORE regulation, its to get rid of the regulation that has CREATED the problem in the first place.

Even with all the Title II regulations etc, AT&T had a monopoly that stifled innovation. Until it was broken up by court order there had been very little new with the telephone for 50 years. Everyone paid their monthly telephone rental for each handset in the house, and you had a choice of 3 kinds: wall, desk, or “princess”. I remember having to pay an extra $2/month for the privilege of using touch-tone dialing, even in the early ’90s!

The answer to the problem is not to lay on more 1930s regulation but to get rid of the 1930s regulation that locks in the balkanization and monopolies that is hampering innovation and development.

Listen, I work in Africa. More people in Africa own cell phones than in America. Its cheaper for them to call me in the USA than for me to call them. The improvements in coverage, in internet access in remote areas and the reductions in cost are directly due to having unencumbered competition.

I’m not suggesting that we remove all regulation, but we need to dump the stifling amount of regulation that we have.

I worked in telecommunications when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was enacted, and I saw the immediate effect that de-regulation had on the telephone services, and on the proliferation of the internet. It was direct and undeniable.

Cleaning up the existing competing regulations that have created the mess we’re in will do more to increase competition and innovation than burdening the industry with more regulation.

Regulations help MONOPOLIES hold onto their market, they do NOT help disruptive innovation.

Groaker (profile) says:

Re: Like government bureacrats are more accountable than public companies

But the initial governmental regulation is indeed the cause of the problem. Authorities who had the ability to decide which cable company could gain the monopoly for their area of coverage. These companies have no competition because their bribes, trade in kind, jobs or whatever offered by the infant cable companies eventually allowed them to consolidate until there is soon to be only one cable company.

Comcast is not an example of capitalism and freedom from government regulation gaining its market share through competition, but rather a behemoth created by law and regulation.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Like government bureacrats are more accountable than public companies

“The internet has flourished because there was little in the way of government interference. Care to dispute that?”

This is sorta true (ignoring the propagandistic use of the term “interference”). But it’s also true that the internet exists directly because the government created it in the first place.

Unreasonable and unnecessary regulation is indeed a bad thing. The problem is that the internet is now run by an oligarchy, a small collection of private entities who get to dictate terms and are abusing that power. How would you propose to fix that? The only available solution that I see at this point is reasonable and appropriate regulation of the infrastructure.

“And somehow it has suddenly become un-innovative because it lacks utility-grade regulation?”

Innovation isn’t really the issue here. All the innovation in the world means nothing if the environment remains oppressive.

“Once the government gets involved you lose accountability because you can’t sue the government.”

Actually, you can, as the many lawsuits against the government throughout history demonstrates. Also, you can exact influence through elections.

“You can sue a company”

Technically, sure. But in the real world, this is rarely actually possible and even more rarely successful.

“You can publicly shame a company into changing how they do things”

Sometimes, yes. But telecoms are totally, 100% impervious to shaming, because they have an effective monopoly. If shaming them actually worked, then they would have changed their practices years ago — since they’re amongst the most hated companies and have been regularly and publicly shamed for decades.

Shaming only works when there’s a risk of them losing business. Telecoms suffer no such risk. After all, where are you going to take your business?

As the old joke goes: “We’re Ma Bell. We don’t care. We don’t have to.”

“Title II regulation on the internet is about Big Government control, rent-seeking, and surveillance. It is NOT about net neutrality.”

In your opinion. The reason I don’t buy this is because the government already engages in rent-seeking and surveillance. Title II reclassification can’t make that worse.

“Its exchanging slippery eels for snakes. They don’t slip anymore, but they bite”

Those eels have been biting for a long time anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

All the talk from legacy broadband players doesn’t match up with reality. I’m paying $50 a month for 3GB of mobile data. I’m also paying $50 a month for land-line internet access and I can’t even stream two 720p YouTube videos at the same time, because $50 a month is only fast enough to stream a single 720p YouTube video at once.

Heaven forbid if I have two people in my house that want to watch YouTube at the same time. That’ll cost me close to $100 a month for that luxury. Not including TV service.

It’s important to remember why telephone companies were classified under Title II in the 1930’s to begin with. Which was due to the telcos preventing 3rd parties from having access to their phone networks, and setting up regional monopolies.

Fast forward to 2014. Now it’s cable AND telco DSL companies demanding “paid prioritization” for “fast lane access” to their last-mile networks, and we still have regional monopolies and duopolies.

The only reason we still need 1930’s regulation is because network operators are still up to their old 1930’s tricks!

Anonymous Coward 2 says:

Re: Telcos preventing 3rd parties

Hmmm, 1930s regulation sure didn’t fix that. A breakup of AT&T’s monopoly by court order did. Until that happened you couldn’t own your own telephone, you couldn’t plug anything in unless you got “permission” and paid a monthly fee. How many people had answering machines in the 1970s?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Telcos preventing 3rd parties

“A breakup of AT&T’s monopoly by court order did.”

Indeed yes. And wouldn’t it have been better for all concerned if things weren’t allowed to get to the point where a huge painful breakup was necessary?

We’re seeing the reconstitution of that old monopoly, but this time with the internet instead of phone service. Are we really going to have to go through so many years of abuse and then take expensive, drastic action in the end? Wouldn’t it be better to be a little more proactive this time?

FM Hilton (profile) says:

Newer regulations, not more.

By making all the internet telco’s Title II, it would impose on them the fact that they don’t own the actual airwaves-they’re renting them, and the FCC is very capable of making sure they might not have the bandwidth they were given in the beginning.

But if not now, when?

Something has to change-and it’s way overdue.

A Network Engineer (profile) says:

Title II and Common Carrier is not the be all and end all for Net Neutrality

Alright, everyone shares the infrastructure and gets cheap internet. Sounds good, but one can only wonder who is going to pay the multiple trillions of dollars it will cost to blanket this country with wall to wall fiber to the premise installations that are essential for the gigabit symmetric connections everyone wants. Title II will not solve the problem; rather, it will greatly decrease the performance of networks. Yes everyone will have a connection that can not be tampered with, but will it be fast? Don’t count on it. I support regulation to prevent carriers from influcing conections based on their business preferences which, as far as I can tell, is all anyone actually cares about in this whole debate. You just have to understand that everything costs money and someone has to pay for it. Usage and the demand for faster speed is quickly growing to a point where the cost for infrastructure to keep up is unbelievable. I’m a network engineer for a small wireless ISP also known as a WISP. I’ve helped design a network to reliably serve about 1000 customers. I have an interesting perspective in this debate as I am a carrier, but a very small one with no interests in reducing performance of certain services in favor of others. I see the usage and I see the unbelievable strain it puts on my network and I know that it is impossible for me to keep the doors open and make huge upgrades to keep up with the ever growing amount of usage without charging my customers hundreds for internet because bandwidth and infrastructure is so expensive. This is a problem all carriers face. While yes large telcos have large piles of money around and I don’t; they don’t have enough to do what people want and that’s more internet for less money. It is just not sustainable; the money has to come from somewhere. If you want blazing fast internet for little money, I promise you classifying ISPs under Title II or as common carriers is not what you want.

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