Surprise! Sprint Supports Title II, By Proxy Highlighting That T-Mobile Doesn't
from the walk-the-talk dept
Sprint today shocked everyone with an announcement that the company has decided to throw its support behind Title II-based net neutrality rules, shifting the Title II momentum needle just that much further. In a letter from Sprint?s CTO Stephen Bye to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler (pdf, spotted at GigaOM), Sprint argues that it’s fine with Title II, provided the rules allow for sensible network management. To hear Sprint tell it, sensible neutrality rules using Title II and forbearance will also have no impact on its investment strategy, despite plenty of industry hand-wringing on this front:
“So long as the FCC continues to allow wireless carriers to manage our networks and differentiate our products, Sprint will continue to invest in data networks regardless of whether they are regulated by Title II, Section 706, or some other light touch regulatory regime.”
AT&T, Comcast and Verizon have repeatedly tried to claim that Title II-based rules will kill industry investment, even though they’ve been quietly telling investors Title II really isn’t a big deal. As the recent $45 billion spectrum auction and wireless investment (wireless voice falls under Title II) make clear, Title II has never really been an impediment to wireless or wireline investment. Smaller ISPs like Sonic.net have similarly noted that Title II-based neutrality rules are only going to be a problem for companies engaged in bad behavior.
Since the announcement makes Sprint the only major wireless carrier supporting Title II, it’s sure to piss off the company’s friends at the CTIA. The CTIA was of course thrilled when the FCC’s original neutrality rules somehow failed to cover wireless networks. Since then, the group has been breathlessly proclaiming that neutrality rules shouldn’t apply to wireless because the wireless industry is a hyper-competitive, unique snowflake (never mind the sector isn’t particularly price competitive and wireless is where most of the worst anti-competitive abuses currently reside).
In addition to being good for consumers, Sprint’s announcement is an incredibly clever marketing move. By publicly supporting Title II, Sprint has thrown a spotlight directly on T-Mobile’s failure to support net neutrality. While T-Mobile has made an often justified reputation the last year for being a fierce consumer advocate, the company has opposed Title II and shown through its Music Freedom program that it may not even understand what net neutrality is. Sprint’s support for Title II by proxy demands that T-Mobile and snarky CEO John Legere walk the talk.
Of course we’ll still have to see well-constructed rules crafted after a lot more bickering over what “differentiated products” and “fast lanes” actually are. The rules will then have to run the endless gauntlet of ISP lawsuits and emerge intact on the other end, then remain intact should there be a party change impacting FCC leadership. Still, judging from recent comments, there’s every indication that FCC boss Tom Wheeler is going to shrug off concerns about his lobbyist past and actually do something good for consumers here, something that was unfathomable to most just one year ago. That’s big, however you slice it.