There are several commonly disseminated myths aimed at perpetuating confusion and misinformation during the pendency of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Open Internet proceeding. Facts, however, cut through the clutter and allow for a discussion rooted in reality rather than rhetoric.
Title II reclassification of broadband is not necessary to preserve an Open Internet.
Here’s why the FCC can and should move forward with Open Internet rules designed under its Section 706 authority rather than reclassifying broadband services under Title II of the Communications Act:
TITLE II AND SECTION 706: Myths vs. Facts
Myth: Title II regulations helped bring about the Internet boom of the early 2000s.
Fact: Although an initial investment spike occurred immediately after the passage of the 1996 Act, that investment was short-lived. That initial spate of investment was primarily directed at technologies and business models that were quickly outstripped by more modern technologies. In fact, the majority of the investment in our country’s broadband infrastructure occurred after the FCC’s 2003-05 decisions to decrease regulations on the broadband industry. This surge in investment laid the groundwork for high-speed Internet to become a leading driver of our nation’s economic growth and to spur the incredible innovation consumers enjoy today.
Myth: Title II-like regulations helped Europe leapfrog the U.S. on broadband deployment.
Fact: Europe gave up its leadership position when it began its path toward heavy-handed regulation that deterred broadband investment and deployment.
According to an independent study, today nearly 82% of U.S. consumers enjoy access to next-generation, high-speed broadband networks (over 25Mbps) while only 54% of Europeans have comparable access. In rural areas, the U.S. again leads in access, 48% to 12%. Next-generation wireless broadband (LTE) is available to 86% of Americans but only 27% of Europeans.
European broadband policies are built on extensive, public utility-style regulation that has depressed broadband investment. In contrast, the U.S. light-touch regulation model has enabled U.S. broadband network operators to invest more than double per household than Europe does: $562 versus $244 in Europe.
Myth: Applying Title II regulations to broadband networks and providers will prevent companies from creating Internet “fast lanes”.
Fact: The FCC has stated that no ISP has ever engaged in paid prioritization schemes. No evidence exists that ISPs have ever or are likely to create fast lanes and slow lanes.
Reclassifying broadband under Title II would not prevent such. In fact, under Title II, public utilities have always been allowed to offer prioritized services. Telephone companies routinely offer installation and repair priority along with service level guarantees to those willing to pay extra money.
According to FCC Chairman Wheeler, the 2010 net neutrality rules were never intended to cover these privately-negotiated business deals, only the last mile of the Internet.
Myth: Wireless networks and wireline networks are virtually interchangeable these days and should have the same net neutrality rules.
Fact: In the 2010 rules, to which all carriers committed, the FCC stated that special characteristics of mobile broadband infrastructure make it essential to give mobile providers additional flexibility in how they manage the traffic on their networks. Due to resource constraints, such as the limited amount of spectrum available for consumer use, mobile networks operate differently than wireline networks. A stringent regulatory environment established under Title II, and intended primarily for a monopoly-era copper wireline world, would be onerous.
The FCC still imposed two conditions on wireless networks in 2010. First, wireless networks cannot block access to legal websites, with exclusions for reasonable network management. Second, wireless network providers were required to disclose their network management practices, performance and terms and conditions of their broadband services.
The current approach acknowledges how wireless networks are different from fixed networks but still protects consumers and enables investment and innovation in the intensely competitive wireless marketplace.
Myth: ISPs harm the open Internet through discriminatory practices. The only way to keep the Internet open is to reclassify Internet services as telecommunications services.
Fact: The Internet, without Title II regulations, is and has been open since its first public use. It continues to thrive in the current regulatory environment. In contrast, Title II regulation would stifle investment and hinder innovation. Innovative new services and business models would have to be vetted and approved by the FCC, slowing the Internet’s vitality and growth.
Ensuring a fair and open Internet through authority granted by Section 706 is a better path. Section 706 permits the FCC to prevent paid prioritization while encouraging innovation and investment from ISPs and other Internet companies.
Myth: Title II can be easily adapted to today’s modern communications systems.
Fact: The past 20 years have seen stunning technological advancements in the communication industry. Americans can now access a wealth of information in myriad new ways. The transformation of the communications industry has caused companies to no longer fit neatly into legal categories envisioned by the 1996 Telecommunications Act or, even more obviously, the Title II rules written in 1934. That’s why companies not normally thought of as “broadband providers” could find themselves categorized and regulated as telecommunications carriers because their service overlaps with the services provided by ISPs if Title II regulations are placed on broadband services. For example, when Google connects you to a business you searched, should it be considered subject to Title II? Or if a provider of email enables a video messaging session, would it open itself up to Title II regulation on the grounds that it is a facilities-based provider or reseller? Could be. And that’s the fear.
Myth: The FCC could apply Title II to broadband, but exercise its forbearance authority when dealing with innovative companies and services.
Fact: Reclassifying broadband services as telecommunication services under Title II would burden 1/6 of the nation’s economy with stringent, investment-inhibiting government regulation. The government would have expansive power over all broadband services, likely including all edge providers and consumer broadband applications and services. The process necessary to analyze and identify which areas of the nation’s broadband economy the FCC would spare from heavy government intrusion would be both lengthy and costly. Additional time and resources would probably be squandered in the litigation that will inevitably follow.
Myth: Unlike Title II, the FCC does not have the power to promote an open Internet under the limited provisions of Section 706.
Fact: Relying on Section 706 to protect consumers and ensure an Open Internet is a superior choice to the overbroad, utility-style Title II regulatory framework of the 1934 Communications Act.
The FCC’s Section 706-like approach in 2010, created rules that found the right balance between regulations necessary to advance consumer protection goals and the need to attract new investment to broadband to ensure future deployments of modern high-speed networks. Under those rules, access to capital grew and we saw massive growth in the digital app economy, video over broadband, VoIP, the advent of tablet computing, and the rise of mobile e-commerce.
Moreover, a Federal Appeals court has given Section 706 its seal of approval and the FCC can assert this authority with confidence. In fact, the courts have said that the FCC is empowered to create rules “governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic…that they will preserve and facilitate the “virtuous circle” of innovation that has driven the explosive growth of the Internet.”
The facts are clear: Reclassification of broadband under Title II is unnecessary to ensure continued Internet openness and would backfire with harmful consequences for innovation and investment. The FCC should instead make use of its powers under Section 706 to protect consumers, promote innovation and encourage nationwide deployment of next-generation broadband.