OTI and Benton Foundation Argue for Strong Open Internet Protections Under Title II Authority

OTI and Benton Foundation Argue for Strong Open Internet Protections Under Title II Authority

Over the past few months, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has received over a million net neutrality comments—a reflection of the broad and vocal interest around the country in the debate over the best path forward for strong open Internet protections. Yesterday, New America’s Open Technology Institute added our voice to the conversation, filing joint comments with the Benton Foundation in the Open Internet docket. We urge the FCC to craft strong new rules that protect users against the full scope of harms on all platforms, arguing that reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service is the clearest and most legally sound way to achieve this important goal.

The Internet is an increasingly integral part of our lives, and strong open Internet protections are needed to ensure that it can continue to serve as a platform for innovation, economic growth, and unfettered communications. Preserving net neutrality is good for the economic well-being of the United States—and particularly the continued growth of the tech industry, which is a major creator of jobs and source of revenue. Net neutrality also ensures that the Internet can continue to be a digital public square that fosters free expression, political participation, and access to information. And it’s necessary for schools, libraries, and other institutions that play a vital role in 21st century communities, providing critical resources to students and teachers as well as lower income and more vulnerable parts of the population.

In our comments, we note that the 2010 Open Internet Rules—which the DC Circuit Court largely vacated in January 2014—are a good, if imperfect, starting place for the FCC in the latest proceeding. But we also describe how the threats to the open Internet have evolved since the FCC first enacted those rules four years ago. The new rules must protect consumers against all kinds of harms, including the blocking of lawful content, discrimination on the basis of content (or the type of content or application), and access fees imposed by ISPs on content creators and other service providers for access to their subscribers. Because ISPs hold a “terminating access monopoly”—meaning they are the only path that allows an edge provider like Netflix or Wikipedia to reach a subscriber—they have powerful gatekeeper status, and their behavior can have a significant negative impact on individuals if the rules are not clear and consistent.

Specifically, we argue that the FCC’s rules should address three types of behavior:

  • Blocking: ISPs should not be able to prevent end-users from accessing the content of their choosing.
  • Discrimination: ISPs should not be able to discriminate on the basis of specific applications, either through throttling or other direct manipulation of the end users experience, or else by charging consumers different prices to differentiate product offerings.
  • Access fees: ISPs should not be able to charge edge providers or other service providers fees that are not related to the actual costs of interconnection, and instead are merely tolls for access to the last mile ISP’s subscribers.

We argue that the rules the FCC has currently proposed—using Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act as the underlying source of authority—will be impractical to implement, will lead to greater market uncertainty, and are legally risky. The “commercial reasonableness” standard in particular would be unworkable for edge companies, non-profit content creators, and consumers. Instead, we conclude that the FCC should reclassify broadband Internet access services as Title II services, which would give it the clearest authority possible to implement legally sound rules that achieve meaningful network neutrality protections.

We also argue that the new rules should be technology neutral and apply to all broadband Internet access service providers, regardless of whether that service is delivered over fixed wireline or mobile wireless networks. One major change in the broadband market since 2010 has been the rapid convergence of mobile and wireline networks and the emergence of hybrid business models that could soon minimize the practical distinctions between the two types of networks. Individuals should have the same freedom to use and access Internet resources whether their device is connected over Wi-Fi to a wired local area network or to a wireless carrier’s network. A common regulatory framework and strong consumer protections for all Internet access is particularly important considering the increasing and disproportionate dependency of young, low-income, minority and rural populations that use mobile devices and mobile networks for their primary Internet access. Reclassification of broadband Internet access as a Title II service offers the best source of authority to achieve a comprehensive framework for strong network neutrality rules that protect across all platforms. But we also note that the FCC has additional authority under Title III of the Communications Act to adopt strong open Internet rules for mobile broadband service providers.

The full comments from the Open Technology Institute and Benton Foundation are available here.


Danielle Kehl is a policy analyst in the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation where she works on technology policy and how it intersects with broader domestic and foreign policy concerns. Her main areas of focus are U.S. broadband policy and Internet freedom. Her writing has been published in a number of outlets, including the Journal of Information Policy, Slate, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Comments

Once again, mostly people understand the problem to be in the last mile, but few have a solution. Well here it is and few will like it as it cuts both ways: mandated interconnection out to the edge applied across the board in layers 1-2 (COs, head-ends, pedestals and poles) in return for market driven “balanced settlements” that afford entirely new revenue models. More importantly balanced settlements provide important price signals and incentives which the (private) IP stack never had.

For those who say mediation or settlements cut against free or open, they are missing that point that competition will drive pricing down to marginal cost and that the platforms for achieving this (big data, API’s, ad exchanges, etc…) at every layer and boundary point are already developing. In fact, the settlement free concept will be considered an aberration and dead-end and legacy of the initial movement to competition in the voice markets that sprang out of inefficient regulated rate arbitrage and new service creation models. Data in the early 1990s was the proverbial pimple on the voice elephant’s butt, so flat-rate didn’t really matter. The web 1.0 crash showed that we needed a settlement model, which evolved to the Google dominated advertising exchange model that monetized communities of eyeballs.

But in the future we don’t necessarily have to give up our privacy or identity in order to achieve free, low cost, universal access. The individual communications session can be tied to the commercial transaction through balanced settlements.

Mandating interconnection out towards the edge and implementing market driven balanced settlements will be extremely generative for developing 4K VoD, 2-way HD video collaborative, Mobile First, and IoT futures rapidly, cost-effectively and universally. I have modeled this approach successfully in 1996 with digital wireless and use blueprints from data digitization of the early 1990s and voice digitization of the 1980s. This is all about last-mile digitization and the current FCC Chairman is best suited to understand this.

Feel free to contact me at michael @ ivpcapital dot com to discuss further and see how we can get a win/win compromise enacted.

Infostack on July 21, 2014 - 11:29am.