NCTA CEO: Time to Break Net Neutrality's 'Infinite Loop'

For those who have had the pleasure of following the network neutrality debate in recent years, it's been a bit like following a yo-yo or the swing of a pendulum. Just when something on the issue gets sorta settled under one administration, it's sure to change, and change quickly, when a new administration enters the White House.

That's been the case at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) . After the Internet was regulated as a Title II service, meaning it should be viewed under common carrier regulations, under the Obama administration and then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, those rules were then rolled back under President Trump and the FCC's current Chairman, Ajit Pai, and placed back under the jurisdiction of Title I and as a communications service. Meanwhile, the courts have been busy hashing through the shifting FCC interpretations and rule-changes, with some individual states weighing in, all with no end in sight. (See Net Neutrality Advocates Predict Victory, FCC Chairman Cheers as Congress Fails to Bring Back Net Neutrality Rules , US Supremes Won't Hear Appeal of FCC's 2015 Net Neutrality Order , DoJ Slaps California With Net Neutrality Suit and States Challenge FCC 'Internet Freedom' Order.)

It's high time to break that cycle -- or that "infinite loop" -- and establish a long-term set of enforceable rules, Michael Powell, the CEO of the NCTA The Internet & Television Association , will say in prepared testimony to be shared tomorrow during a House Energy & Commerce Committee hearing on the highly debated topic.

"In software programming, an infinite loop is defined as 'a piece of coding that lacks a functional exit so that it repeats indefinitely,'" Powell will say in his remarks. "Similarly, the net neutrality issue is caught in an infinite loop. It is high time to debug this debate -- avoiding approaches that will only perpetuate it -- and reach a bipartisan resolution that puts in place a sound and enforceable set of rules."

By his count, "no fewer than six different FCC Chairman of both political parties have wrestled with the issue," while net neutrality rules have circulated through the courts four different times.

He will stress that the US "sorely needs Congress to break this interminable circularity," adding that the NCTA would support "bipartisan legislation to enshrine core net neutrality safeguard," and that "all major stakeholders support the establishment of binding rules."

"All" is a big claim, but, by way of example, it's clear that AT&T is solidly on that list. (See Congress Must Act on Network Neutrality, AT&T CEO Says .)

"The only net neutrality rules with teeth are those that actually become law," Powell will say.

Powell, now a lobbyist, served as the chairman of the FCC under President George W. Bush from January 2001 until March 2005.

As for what should go into those rules, Powell will outline that there is some common ground -- that there should be "no blocking or throttling of lawful content," no paid prioritization that can "create fast lanes and slow lanes, absent public benefit." And ISPs should be transparent with their network practices, he'll say.

He will also argue that the FCC has struggled with creating long-term, enforceable rules in part because it lacks a "clear basis of jurisdiction" with respect to net neutrality rules.

Powell will also reiterate cable's position that the Internet shouldn't fall under Title II law, holding that it is not only antiquated, but an "explosive and destabilizing action" and "incongruous with the dynamics of the internet today."

And Powell will also give a shout out to "10G," the brand and trademark that the cable industry is giving its symmetrical 10-Gig broadband initiatives. (See CES 2019: Cable's 10G Tech 'Will Work' and NCTA Trademarks '10G' .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

brooks7 2/8/2019 | 12:51:55 PM
Re: Can we stop? Yes, I know I am preaching to nobody.  I just feel that Net Neutrality is a "Wag the Dog" thing.  As long as we are arguing about that we are not getting improved service in unserved and underserved areas.


Jeff Baumgartner 2/7/2019 | 5:27:32 PM
Re: Can we stop? What?!? Don't you know that a day without debating about Net Neutrality is like a day without sunshine? ; ) 

I do agree, though, that everything to this point has been a years-long excercise in wheel-spinning with little in the way of long-term answers. I think that's a novel concept you're putting out there, but given all the dander that's been spent on both sides, it's not realistic. Hard to guess where it'll go from here, but I would bet that Congress will end up taking this on.  

Whether that'll result in anything better than the fits and starts we've seen at the FCC is another matter. Can they do any worse? Scary question. This is the US government we're talking about. JB 

brooks7 2/6/2019 | 10:13:16 PM
Can we stop?  

How bout we stop talking about Net Neutrality?

We put in Title II - Was CAPEX killed - No.

We removed Title II - Were sites rate limited - No.

Effect none either way.

What we need is universal broadband access similar to the way that phones were mandated under the REA.  Maybe we up the speed to 100Mb/s symmetric.  Doesn't mean people HAVE to buy that speed, but it MUST be available at every residence in the US.


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