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.