Reclassifying Broadband Under Title II Becoming Politically Feasible

from the this-can-happen dept

One of the most annoying things about the net neutrality fight -- as we've been noting for over a decade -- is how silly the net neutrality debate was once it became "partisan." An issue that, previously, had been a general one about the future of the internet turned into a ridiculous political circus with Republicans (misleadingly) claiming it was about "regulating the internet." You'd think that the "pro-business party," as they like to call themselves, would support a policy of an open and free internet that enables so many entrepreneurs and businesses to exist. But, of course, "pro-business" is often code for "pro-big-legacy business." Either way, the unfortunate news is this has become a stupidly partisan issue, and when that happens, reasoned debate often goes out the window. Given that, one the prevailing narratives in DC circles is that this idea of reclassification of broadband under Title II (basically common carrier status) was "politically impossible," because it would entail a huge partisan fight in Congress, and apparently no one wants to do that.

This argument, too, is kind of stupid and typical of the Jay Rosen-coined concept of the "Church of the Savvy," in which the narrative of the politics becomes much more important than the policy itself. In this case, it's pretty clear that the "fight" is happening no matter what rules the FCC comes out with. The politicians opposed to net neutrality have made it clear that they'll oppose any rules that the FCC adopts, including its currently proposed, ridiculously weak, rules under Section 706, which leave the door wide open to destroying net neutrality and creating fast lanes.

Given that, it seems like the FCC has a choice on its hands: (A) go with pretend net neutrality and have Republicans fight like hell against it, or (B) go with real net neutrality rules and have Republicans fight like hell against it. It's difficult to see how choice (A) makes any sense, except that the "savvy" claim has long been that the Democrats didn't have the political will to really fight back against Republicans over Title II (suggesting that they would be more willing to support Wheeler's fake neutrality rules).

But, a funny thing has been happening over the last few weeks, indicating that "the savvy" may not be so "savvy" after all. A bunch of Senators have come out strongly in favor of Title II reclassification. And then the big gun came out: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has basically told activists that he'd support the FCC in a political fight with Republicans if the FCC chooses Title II. Reid, unfortunately, did not go all out, and directly urge the FCC to support Title II, but his statement that he would support "any Open Internet rules" that the FCC comes up with is a pretty clear signal to the FCC that the Democratic Leadership in the Senate wouldn't shy away from supporting Title II, as many had assumed.

It may seem like a small step, but the signalling here is pretty important, because it suggests that the "politically impossible" Title II reclassification is moving towards a political possibility... if the FCC and Chairman Wheeler are actually willing to make that move. In the past, Wheeler has argued that there wasn't enough political support to go with Title II, and that's part of the reason he was leaning on the fake solution of Section 706. But as more and more support in Congress is popping up for Title II, the tide is shifting towards it being a political possibility, even if it still very much depends on if Wheeler is willing to take a stand, or fold like so many previous FCC bosses.

Now, if only some on the Republican side stopped listening to the misleading talking points on this, and took the time to understand why this actually matters, and is so important to businesses and innovation...

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  1. icon
    fgoodwin (profile), 1 Aug 2014 @ 9:19am

    Re: Title II and Small Business

    Rick, correct me if I'm wrong, but don't many small rural telcos file their DSL service offerings in a NECA tariff?

    I.e., those small businesses offer broadband under Title II regulation. They are not required to offer broadband this way, they choose to do so. As far as I know, that choice hasn't lessened their incentives to invest risk capital in their broadband networks (i.e., REA or RUS is still lending them government-subsidized, below market rate money to invest in their networks). I'm not a wireless expert so I can't speak to how Title II will affect WISP investment.

    By they way: there is no URL linking to the WISPA Petition for Reconsideration. But I'd like to read it.

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