FCC's 'Middle Ground' Already Under Attack

The reactions to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's new net neutrality proposals have been swift and predictable even though those proposals haven't even been formally announced yet.

In advance of the expected announcement today, multiple news outlets are reporting that Chairman Tom Wheeler is circulating a proposal that seeks a middle ground. It would allow broadband ISPs to offer premium access to companies that want to carve out guaranteed high-speed bandwidth for their services, as long as such access was commercially available to all on reasonable terms.

Just the fact that anyone would be able to pay for premium services is drawing howls of protest and claims that both President Obama and Wheeler are reneging on their support for a free and open Internet. (See Wheeler Writes Regulatory Rubric and Wheeler Walks Line on Net Neutrality.)

In a Common Cause press release, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now a special adviser to Common Cause's Media and Democracy Reform Initiative, said: "If true, this proposal is a huge step backwards and must be stopped. If the Commission subverts the Open Internet by creating a fast lane for the 1 percent and slow lanes for the 99 percent, it would be an insult to both citizens and to the promise of the Net."

The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story Wednesday , claims the winners in the net neutrality wars would be the broadband ISPs, who would be able to make money selling services to both consumers and content providers, and larger content companies such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX), who can pay more to make sure their content reaches consumers with higher quality. (See Netflix CEO Wants 'Strong' Net Neutrality .)

But broadband providers, many of whom are announcing financial results this week, are being more measured in their responses.

"We have to see what's ultimately embedded in the proposal," said Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) Chairman & CEO Rob Marcus. "At this stage, it's difficult to speculate until we know what's contemplated.”

Asked about possible new business models for offering Internet video content, Marcus said it was "premature" to discuss. "We'll have to see what new business models emerge," he said.

The new rules were made necessary by a January court ruling that struck down the FCC's previous rules in a challenge brought by Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ). According to the Journal, the FCC would require broadband ISPs to disclose more information about their networks and would retain the right to decide on a case-by-case basis on the fairness and reasonableness of the commercial terms broadband ISPs have set. (See Net Neutrality Fight Not Over.)

UPDATE 11.30 AM EST: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is "setting the record straight" in a blog you can read here , in which he says the FCC's proposal to be circulated today would set "a high bar" for what is commercially reasonable. In addition, he says the agency will solicit other approaches to preventing "behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet."

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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brookseven 4/29/2014 | 7:26:38 PM
Re: Fundamental arguments Mitch,

Plan on the next Congressional Action to be around 2050.  If we take the two Telecom Acts, you will see over 60 years separated them.

So, don't expect anything in your lifetime from Congress.

Mitch Wagner 4/29/2014 | 6:49:47 PM
Re: Fundamental arguments brookseven - "Universal Service has never applied to anything other than common carriers."

That could, of course, change if Congress chooses to do so. 
RolfSperber 4/29/2014 | 2:53:00 AM
Net Neutrality Net Neutrality melts down to a political slogan, at least in Germany. Acces lines from 384 KBit/sec up to 100 MBit/sec depending on where you live make an "equal rights" internet virtually impossible. In backbone and core we have best effort, a vaque idea of net neutrality. What could be done would be to build a virtual infrastructure with elements from different carriers split into a high quality virtual section with the possibility to guarantee bandwidth and QoS for individual clients and a neutral section, guaranteeing bandwidth to all clients of this section.
Liz Greenberg 4/28/2014 | 1:54:46 PM
Re: Fundamental arguments I with you @seven.  Back in the day voice was "the" service for everybody.  Now it it is the internet carrying everything including voice.  Given that and the carriers push to VoIP only, it only makes sense to declare all carriers as "common carriers" and subject them all to the same rules.
brookseven 4/28/2014 | 1:35:03 PM
Re: Fundamental arguments Mitch,


Universal Service has never applied to anything other than common carriers.



Mitch Wagner 4/28/2014 | 12:10:34 PM
Re: Fundamental arguments We can have universal service without subjecting ISPs to common carrier status though. 
SachinEE 4/28/2014 | 10:56:24 AM
Re: Fundamental arguments The recent circulating proposal that seeks to allow broadband ISPs to offer premium access to companies that would like to curve out guaranteed high speed bandwidth internet connectivity for the services that they provide should be scrutinized a lot. This is simply because, it will bring about bias, favoring broad band ISPs, who will take advantage to make a lot of money by selling their services both to their clients and to content providers. This will limit the citizen's democratic and fundamental right to access and use open internet. 
brookseven 4/28/2014 | 10:02:13 AM
Re: Fundamental arguments Mitch,

Universal Service was required to make phone service ubiquitous.  Can't see why it wouldn't be required for high speed BB.

I have said mandatory High Speed BB as a required service should be put in place and ISPs should be common carriers.


Mitch Wagner 4/28/2014 | 12:17:11 AM
Re: Fundamental arguments I remember a discussion back when DSL was emerging to compete with cable. DSL advocates said the problem with cable is that you're sharing the Internet with all your neighbors. Cable advocates responded that in either case, you're sharing the Internet with ... the entire Internet. 

In your opinion (and the opinion of others reading this thread) would the US be better off if the FCC used the nuclear option and declared Internet service providers to be common carriers?
brookseven 4/24/2014 | 8:24:49 PM
Re: Fundamental arguments Of course, I would already argue there is a content fast lane.  Cable calls that the non-DOCSIS channels.  U-verse calls it broadband TV.  So, I am stunned that anyone thinks there can be no premium content lanes since they exist already.  We were working with Verizon to do long tail content over Switched Digital Video over IP and give it higer QoS than Internet service.

Interesting thing about this....the cable and telcos PAY the content owners for the priviledge of being able to show this content.  Now the reality is that Netflix is not a content owner...its a content aggregator.  I wonder if the cable cos and telcos would be able to pull this with Hulu Plus.  I think not.

And the rest of the services (outside of video) do not care very much about these hyper lane QoS deals.


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