The agreement released yesterday between two major stakeholders in the net neutrality debate – an Internet Access Provider, Verizon, and a content provider, Google, — is an important development which has both positive and negative provisions related to an open Internet and Internet freedom.
While it should not be too surprising that companies seek to create a framework in which their unique corporate goals can be achieved, it underlines the essential need for the FCC to act promptly and decisively to protect the open Internet. The FCC is obligated to protect the broad public interest. It needs to do so before additional private deals are reached by companies nervous that the FCC’s failure to protect neutrality and open access requires them to seek parochial deals in the name of self-preservation.
The agreement between these two companies is an indication of just how much is at stake. While Verizon has shown itself to be among the more innovative and forward thinking Internet Access Providers, the issues involved impact core business strategy and billions of dollars up for grabs. It is especially unlikely that others in similar positions in the industry can be trusted to not abuse any rules with potential loopholes and weak preemptive enforcement authority, as evidenced by the deceitful and misleading lobbying campaign waged on this issue in recent years. Unfortunately, several decades of watching the communications industry evolve, both technologically and politically, leaves us skeptical that good faith implementation of the most positive principles enunciated by the agreement will happen absent clear FCC enforcement of Title II communications obligations and closing the many loopholes contained in the agreement.
The FCC must act this year to correct the errors of past rulings that misclassified basic communications and access functions as information services and thus close the gap of authority caused by the April Comcast decision. In the absence of FCC action, or a new law signed by the President, millions of users including consumers, students, nonprofits, and small and large businesses, are at the mercy of their Internet Access Providers — with no enforceable, legal rights to quality Internet access. While legislation has appeal, the political clout of Google combined with all proponents of net neutrality might be able to stop terrible legislation, but could not ensure good legislation (even if good only meant the Google/Verizon proposal).
The Computer & Communications Industry Association is generally opposed to all but the minimal amount of government regulation. In that spirit we support the FCC’s proposed third way reliance on Title II to govern critical broadband telecommunications infrastructure.
The following statement can be attributed to CCIA President and CEO Ed Black:
“This compromise proposal shows that claims that non discrimination and net neutrality rules are ‘Regulation of the Internet’ are bogus.
“It shows that Verizon, and companies like it, acknowledge that they can continue to prosper while still providing the neutral and nondiscriminatory access to the Internet that has protected the Internet from its inception. It acknowledges that Internet Access Providers, [sometimes called Communications Gateway companies] should not use their gateway lock on access to discriminate among Internet users and that they should be transparent and fair in their network management practices.
“While we believe the limitation on the regulation of content and apps is a positive proposal, we are concerned the ‘differential services’ aspect of the proposed agreement is an exception that could easily swallow the nondiscrimination rule. The initial reaction to the announcement of this agreement is revealing. Companies that are lining up with business models that depend on discrimination have not attacked it.
“Another risk not addressed well by the agreement is that since Internet Access Providers would be free to sell their bandwidth and the quality of their services to the highest bidder, they could relegate ordinary Internet users to a slow and stagnant lane of service. This would create another dimension of the digital divide.
“The FCC needs to act now to protect consumers, and future innovative companies who have the possibility of becoming new Googles, eBays, Facebooks, or Twitters if they have equal access to the Internet’s potential.
“Since the April Comcast decision, there has been a void in how the FCC can protect consumers, though most academics and others without a financial stake in the net neutrality debate see the application of Title II to broadband Internet as a no brainer. CCIA represents diverse corporate interests but we are deeply committed to the long-term health and growth of our dynamic industry. The sincere balanced efforts of this Administration are under constant assault by very powerful parochial corporate special interests and lobbyists.
“Neither the government nor any major Internet Access Provider should regulate the Internet itself. Freedom of expression and freedom to innovate on the Internet are too critical to jobs, our economy and our democracy to let a handful of companies thwart the FCC’s charge to protect consumers.”