Telco Trade Group USTelecom 'Supports' FCC Neutrality Rules, Just Not The FCC Actually Being Able To Enforce Them

from the I-support-you,-except-for-when-I'm-trying-to-kill-you dept

Despite the endless, breathless proclamations about "outdated, utility-style regulation" or the death of innovation, there's really only one reason ISPs don't want to be reclassified as common carriers by the FCC: the billions to be made by abusing the uncompetitive broadband last mile. The very threat of a regulator actually doing its job and establishing what are relatively thin consumer protections (just ask ISPs like Frontier, Cablevision, Sprint or Sonic.net) is really only a problem if you plan to make money off the backs of a captive audience that can't vote with its wallet.

Not too surprisingly, "we want the absolute right to aggressively abuse an uncompetitive U.S. broadband market" isn't a very sexy or compelling sales pitch. As such, ISPs have worked very hard to paint Title II as a bogeyman of mammoth proportions; an implementation of outdated regulations that will utterly demolish an amazing, hyper-competitive broadband landscape that doesn't actually exist. We've debunked these claims time and time again, but expecting to find a middle ground with lobbyists paid to be intractable is a bit like playing whac-a-mole with an army of invincible undead.

Enter USTelecom, an AT&T-dominated trade group that filed one of five lawsuits last week against the FCC's net neutrality rules. Trying to justify the group's lawsuit to the media, USTelecom boss Walter McCormick this week proclaimed that the group really was ok with the FCC's rules -- it just wasn't ok with the agency having the ability to enforce them:
"US Telecom President Walter McCormick says his association supports the substance of the FCC's new open Internet rules as outlined by the FCC and President Obama, which is no blocking or throttling or paid prioritization. He suggested in an interview on C-SPAN's Communicators series that that was not a heavy lift because his industry operates under those standards already."
Right, well, I adhere to the "standards" stopping me from claiming I'm a magic, sentient fire truck, too (do I need to mention such rules don't exist?). And as we've noted repeatedly, ISPs are smart enough to know that outright blocking of content or websites is PR seppuku, which is why ISP attention has shifted toward things like interconnection and zero rated apps -- areas where ISPs can extract their pound of flesh -- without obviously looking like they're trying to extract their pound of flesh. "We're uh, just getting our fair share from Netflix and trying to help the poor!"

Most of USTelecom's talking points are staler than three-month-old crackers, including this idea that broadband ISPs really want Congress to tackle net neutrality:
"McCormick said the government had a role in protecting the Open Internet, but he said that role should be defined by the U.S. Congress, which has not provided guidance in 20 years. "It is time for Congress to provide the commission with clear authority to guarantee an open Internet, but to prevent the commission from having to redefine the entire Internet..." McCormick insisted he was optimistic that Congress could act. "There is absolute consensus on the problem," he said, and that there is not clear authority, and that the solution is for Congress to supply that clear authority."
Of course, this burning desire to punt the issue to Congress is fueled by the knowledge that, slathered in lobbying cash, Congress either will pass bad laws that benefit USTelecom's members, or do nothing at all after being intentionally bogged down in obnoxiously-simplistic partisan discourse over an issue that isn't really partisan. Neutrality opponents Senator John Thune and Representative Fred Upton have been putting on an adorable pony show claiming they want a "bipartisan" solution to net neutrality, when all they're really trying to do is codify a law that will keep wolves in charge of policing the hen house.

The great irony, of course, is that (after fifteen years of deregulation, it should be noted) the FCC's rules don't actually change all that much -- and they certainly don't get to the core of the broadband industry's great disease -- a lack of broadband competition. The agency has made it clear it intends to forbear from the lion's share of Title II utility regulations, and if you pay attention, FCC boss Tom Wheeler has given every indication that he doesn't see things like zero rating as a big deal. Most people, and a growing number of ISPs, acknowledge you'd have to engage in some particularly idiotic, ham-fisted abuses to even get on the FCC's radar.

Still, the very notion that the FCC might shrug off lobbyist influence and do the bare minimum to actually protect consumers is the kind of "disaster" USTelecom and AT&T feel they simply can't ignore.
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Filed Under: authority, broadband, fcc, net neutrality
Companies: ustelecom


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 7:28am

    Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

    With broadcast TV, the networks pay for the infrastructure used to deliver the content to you, and so long as you are in range of their signal you are free to receive there service. Further with cable, you can decide whether or not to buy the basic service, and any additional packages.

    With an ISP service you are paying for access to the Internet, and not a particular service on the Internet. With data-caps and zero rated services, you have no choice in what services you can use without restriction, and which are effectively cut off or become prohibitively expensive whenever you exceed your cap. So not only is zero rating making it difficult for smaller players to compete, it is also restricting the content available on the Internet that you can access.
    Unlike cable, it is not as if you have the option of paying for available content that is not in the packages you already have, it is a case of your ISP deciding what Internet content you can get.

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