We warmly welcomed the Commission’s decision to adopt the Restoring Internet Freedom Order and have followed its impact in the marketplace. In brief, we believe the Commission acted just in time to encourage the explosion of new investment that will be necessary for the Nation to make the transition to 5G networks and to fill current gaps in networks operating at lower speeds. We further believe that this expansion of investment will have direct benefits for public safety, an important category of broadband users and an issue on which the Commission seeks to refresh the record. Our comments thus reiterate our opposition to “utility-style regulation of the Internet” and focus on the Order’s positive impact on investment in broadband networks.
Today, the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) submitted its white paper, Evolving Preferences – Consumer Preferences Tilting Towards Mobile Broadband, to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for consideration in its annual inquiry into the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability. IIA’s filing shows that consumers now view fixed and mobile broadband service as essentially the same. IIA believes it is now time for the FCC to recognize that mobile and fixed broadband services are “functional substitutes.” This will modernize the FCC’s approach to reporting to Congress on broadband deployment to reflect current consumer preferences.
We strongly favor overturning the classification of broadband as a Title II service in the Title II Order, restoring the classification of broadband as an information service — a status that propelled the exponential growth of broadband and the Internet for nearly two decades – and enacting legislation to protect open Internet rules.
After an exhaustive and detailed search for data regarding the availability of business data services, the results are clear: virtually all American businesses have access to business data services (hereinafter, “BDS”) and the level of competition, spurred in large measure by the rapid entry of cable into this market, is growing, almost on a daily basis. There is simply no justification for intrusive, ex ante regulation, and particularly not for price regulation in a market that, by the Commission’s own data, is working and competitive.
Further, regulation of the BDS market is in no way necessary to achieve the deployment of 5G technology and would in fact skew and slow deployment. The nature of 5G technology — the development of which is still in process — equally argues against imposing regulation on the BDS market, as does the need to deploy 5G throughout rural America, which would be delayed by this regulation.
A sea change in the Lifeline Program is needed. IIA strongly believes that the Lifeline Program should cover broadband services. As Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has noted, broadband is “the greatest equalizer of our time.” But while broadband access is nearly ubiquitous for upper-income Americans, those with low incomes struggle to achieve comparable connectivity. IIA believes that, if the FCC fails to fundamentally alter the program to cover broadband, then the FCC may inadvertently and unnecessarily jeopardize the program’s future existence.
In bringing Lifeline into the 21st century, broadband should be included as an integral, more affordable offering of the program, and consumers should be empowered by providing the subsidy directly to eligible people instead of companies. Moreover, to enhance administrative efficiency, we urge the FCC to shift program eligibility verification away from companies that are not accountable to the American people, and instead allow states to verify eligibility for Lifeline at the same time they determine consumer eligibility for other federal low-income programs.
To protect the innovation that has been a hallmark of the Internet ecosystem and to advance the overall mission of broadband deployment, the Commission should rely on its authority, reaffirmed by the Verizon court, under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 rather than on a radical proposal to reverse decades of Commission precedent and practice by reclassifying broadband services under Title II. Selective forbearance would pose serious legal and practical difficulties. Section 706 – the text of which speaks of the need to promote investment – presents the better alternative to protect the open Internet, protect consumers, and promote innovation.
In summary, IIA believes the existing unpredictable, non-public process for changing spectrum screens undermines economic growth by failing to provide investors with the transparency, predictability and flexibility needed to properly consider wireless broadband investments. While freeing more spectrum for mobile broadband use remains the most important new policy priority, creating an open and predictable process for evaluating the amount of spectrum carriers will be allowed to possess is essential to promoting investment and growth in commercial mobile services.
An effective National Broadband Strategy will enable the government to partner with the private sector to extend broadband service to every corner of the country, while at the same time raising awareness of its benefits. A national broadband strategy should also evolve as technologies improve, and as we learn more from broadband mapping and from the return of initial stimulus investments. The best strategy will start by examining where we stand today and then identify policies to get us where we want to be.