Broadband Industry Takes To Congressional Hearing To Praise Wimpy, Neutrality-Killing Proposal It Helped Write

from the pure-theater dept

To derail February’s expected unveiling of Title II-based neutrality rules, the broadband industry is engaged in a last ditch effort to pass some of the flimsiest net neutrality rules we’ve seen yet. Spearheaded by Senator John Thune and Representative Fred Upton (the latter a particular magnet of Comcast campaign contributions), the goal appears to be to propose intentionally awful neutrality rules, offer a few meager concessions, then insist the marginally-less-awful result was crafted only after a long “public conversation” and with bipartisan support.

If you actually bother to read the proposal (pdf), you’ll find it actually erodes FCC authority and flexibility to enforce violations by stripping FCC rulemaking rights away, leaving the FCC only able to adjudicate dispute after dispute with no timetable (essentially allowing ISPs to bury complaints in paperwork). The proposal also has intentionally vague loophole language large enough to drive several trucks through, with terms like “specialized services” and “reasonable network management” left intentionally ambiguous. It also intentionally fails to address the latest neutrality flash points (like usage caps or interconnection).

Despite the proposal being a hot mess, phase one of Thune and Upton’s plan is to convince the press and public that neutrality opponents had seen the error of their ways and are finally willing to negotiate on real rules. Phase two appears to be to hold a series of public hearings (starting this week) featuring industry friends gushing about the effort — like former FCC boss turned top cable lobbyist Michael Powell, who today told hearing attendees that all of those clever loopholes his industry helped painstakingly embed in the draft proposal are wonderful for consumers and industry alike:

“The Committee?s proposal to enact bipartisan legislation is a much-needed alternative to this harsh result (read: Title II). Instead of leaving the FCC to find statutory authority in existing provisions of law, we must work together to craft new legislation that establishes unambiguous rules of the road for ISPs while also clearly defining the parameters of the FCC?s authority. The legislative proposal under consideration today represents a new path forward that meets these policy goals. I firmly believe that the proposed legislation under review today achieves the aims of every stakeholder in the Internet ecosystem.”

The wireless industry is similarly thrilled by the draft proposal with language you’ll note mirrors the cable industry (“excellent start,” “great path forward”). Former FCC Commissioner Robert “what broadband competition problem” McDowell, now employed by frequent Comcast client Wiley Rein LLP, also testified at the hearing and offered up a Wall Street Journal editorial using much of the same rhetoric (gosh, it’s almost like they’re all reading from the same script):

“It?s time to consider a different path?one that leads through Congress?to end the net-neutrality fiasco. Although the legislative process can be perilous, Congress can provide all sides with a way out.”

Yes, the same Congress that can’t tie its own shoes can most certainly lead us out of a complicated, decade long net neutrality debate — by trying to pass net neutrality rules written by the nation’s biggest broadband companies. Of course if this effort follows the traditional telecom industry trajectory, phase three of the sales job for the Upton/Thune proposal will be to bombard the public with editorials and support from a litany of purportedly objective experts and minority groups — all breathlessly arguing that this awful bill is our “best path forward” and that Title II will harm puppies and create tears in the space time continuum.

Unfortunately for the phone and cable industries, most folks (with a few press exceptions) appear to realize this change of heart is really just telecom industry business as usual: large companies writing draft legislation and then throwing money at politicians, individuals and groups eager to parrot support for cash. The only interest here is in undermining real net neutrality, not protecting it, and the goal isn’t consensus — it’s the illusion of consensus. In the end we’re still headed for a fight over Title II, whether the industry likes it or not.

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Comments on “Broadband Industry Takes To Congressional Hearing To Praise Wimpy, Neutrality-Killing Proposal It Helped Write”

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16 Comments
Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I remember Michael Powell was really bullish on broadband over powerline, ignoring all the complaints about the interference issues that technology had. He once called it the “great broadband hope,” and used it as an example of emerging broadband technology to justify sector deregulation. It’s currently not really used — anywhere.

JaDe says:

Sorry

As a South Dakotan I feel the need to apologize for my Senator. I’d like to say that I voted against him in the last election, but he ran unopposed. The Democratic Party is almost completely dead here in SD now.

It should also be noted that the largest ISP around here is MidContinent who are 50% owned by Comcast. They’re actually pretty decent as far as speed and price goes, for now at least.

MM_Dandy (profile) says:

Re: Sorry

If Thune isn’t careful, he may end up getting the same reputation as Daschle, who wasn’t able to shake the perception that he was toeing the party line as opposed to the interests of his constituents.

I’ve mentioned this before, but he’d also do well to remember that government regulation helped bring electricity and phone service to many rural areas in SD at a time when European countries like France and Germany were miles ahead of the US in that regard, and the industry wasn’t competitive enough to make the investment worthwhile.

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