Outgoing FCC Boss Warns New FCC About The Perils Of Killing Net Neutrality
from the prepare-for-a-backlash dept
We’ve noted a few times how the incoming Trump-led FCC has made it clear that it not only wants to roll back net neutrality and new broadband privacy rules, but also defund and defang the FCC entirely. The majority of Trump telecom advisors believe that the FCC serves absolutely no role as a consumer protection agency, and should be torn down to the studs — its only function being to help manage wireless spectrum. With the broadband market clearly broken and uncompetitive (exhibit A: Comcast and its hidden fees, usage caps, and historically awful customer service), eliminating most regulatory oversight of the sector would obviously compound most of the existing problems.
In his last speech as acting agency head (pdf) ahead of his resignation this week, FCC boss Tom Wheeler warned the new, incoming FCC that rolling back net neutrality is going to not only drive massive consumer backlash against net neutrality opponents, but it’s going to be legally difficult after the FCC’s court victory last year. Wheeler also noted how the justifications for quickly moving to kill net neutrality rules (such as the repeatedly debunked claim that the rules harmed network investment) are flimsy, at best:
“Yes, we must be vigilant. And the first step in such vigilance is to ask those who want to rush to take away existing protections a simple question: where?s the fire? What has happened since the Open Internet rules were adopted to justify uprooting the policy? As I said a moment ago, network investment is up, investment in innovative services is up, and ISPs revenues ? and stock prices – are at record levels. So, where?s the fire Other than the desires of a few ISPs to be free of meaningful oversight, why the sudden rush to undo something that is demonstrably working?
Vigilance requires the FCC or the Congress make the case as to why the American tradition of open networks should be reversed. Fortunately, the rules under which the FCC must operate provides for just such vigilance. Contrary to what you might have heard, reversing the Open Internet rules is not a slam dunk. The effort to undo an open Internet will face the high hurdle, imposed by the Administrative Procedure Act, of a fact-based showing that so much has changed in just two short years that a reversal is justified.”
Of course, the new FCC and its net neutrality opponents don’t have to kill the rules procedurally — they can initially just choose to not enforce them. From there, the most likely course of action is to push a new law through Congress that pays lots of lip service to net neutrality and broadband deployment, but is written to actively sabotage regulatory oversight. Such a law likely will contain net neutrality “restrictions” so riddled with loopholes as to effectively make violating net neutrality the law of the land (kind of like the Thune/Upton proposal we warned you about last year).
Whatever the path to deconstruction, Wheeler warned of the obvious, negative repercussions of putting the wolves in charge of the henhouse, and killing rules preventing incumbent ISPs from charging innovators and competitors a “troll toll” just to connect to their customers (aka double dipping):
“We have already seen how AT&T and Verizon have favored their own video services by zerorating their product while forcing consumers to pay data charges for competitors. Just take that behavior and look how it would affect other 21st century services.
Whether it?s Amazon Web Services, or Microsoft?s Azure, or Salesforce.com?s integrated cloudbased activities, ISPs free from open access obligations and behavioral oversight can choke growth and innovation, or, at the least, demand tribute for passing over their network.”
Net neutrality has always been, at its core, about a lack of last mile broadband competition. It’s about incumbent ISPs using this monopoly over the broadband last mile to charge companies and consumers — already paying an arm and a leg for broadband — an additional troll toll. It’s what began the debate when former AT&T CEO Ed Whitacre crowed he wouldn’t let “Google ride his pipes for free,” and it has simply evolved in the era of “zero rating” — which requires that competing streaming TV platforms pay up if they want to operate on the same playing field as incumbent services.
It’s the lack of competition that creates and encourages net neutrality, privacy, and other ISP abuse. Eliminating rules protecting consumers from this problem — then gutting all regulatory oversight of the nation’s least-liked companies — won’t magically fix this problem, it will simply make it exponentially worse. And while the incoming FCC and its ISP allies are chomping at the bit to begin deconstructing net neutrality, broad, bipartisan consumer support for net neutrality means they can expect a techno-activist backlash that will make the response to SOPA look like a beach-side blanket picnic.
Net neutrality opponents can certainly proceed with their plan to kill net neutrality, but the effort is going to come with a price tag most of them violently underestimate.