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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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2015 @ 2:50pm

    If you are making the industry you are trying to regulate happy, you are not regulating it properly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 21 Jan 2015 @ 3:02pm

    FTFY

    "It’s time to consider a different path—one that leads through Congress—to end net-neutrality.


    What he really meant.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cypherspace (profile), 21 Jan 2015 @ 3:10pm

    Michael Powell should have followed the example his father set and waved a round a vial of fake anthrax to drum up support for his worthless cause.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Karl Bode (profile), 22 Jan 2015 @ 4:57am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jan 2015 @ 3:18pm

    Considering that the cable giants also own much of the "free" press, it's not very hard to guess which side of the debate the mainstream-media empires like Time and NBC will be on.

    If not for internet sites like DSLreports and techdirt, there might not even be any dissenting voices.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 21 Jan 2015 @ 3:23pm

    Perilous to who?

    Although the legislative process can be perilous, Congress can provide all sides with a way out.


    Yes, it can be very perilous indeed -- for all of us regular folks. There is no realistic peril at all for the telecoms.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2015 @ 1:02am

    #Notneutrality, or should it be #Netneuterality ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 22 Jan 2015 @ 3:41am

    Lookit, the "rules of the road for ISPs" are to deliver the bits as quickly as possible as cheaply as possible. We wouldn't have to tell you that if there were any market forces driving you to compete.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2015 @ 5:38am

    This line set off alarm bells for me:

    "I firmly believe that the proposed legislation under review today achieves the aims of every stakeholder in the Internet ecosystem."

    When has the public ever been regarded as a stakeholder in anything?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 22 Jan 2015 @ 5:44am

      Re:

      Good catch. Any time the word 'stakeholder' is used, you can be pretty sure that the public is not going to be invited or involved, since to the kind of person who uses that word, if you're not a company or rich, you flat out don't matter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 22 Jan 2015 @ 7:39am

      Re:

      That One Guy is right. Good catch. "Stakeholder" is a red-flag word that usually indicates the public's interest is being disregarded.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JaDe, 22 Jan 2015 @ 8:03am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      MM_Dandy (profile), 22 Jan 2015 @ 11:32am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2015 @ 10:56am

    I know what's in the back of our minds...ISPs slipping in policies,at the last minute, upon signing into law by our chief and commander...like so many times.

    There's a reason why 90% of all policies that have 'been' to the 'benefit' to the public have not prevailed...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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