Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Broadband reclassification: for and against


The debate around the reclassification of broadband in the US continues, as more organisations and companies add their voices to the discussion. In the "for" camp:
  • Connected Planet and TelecomPaper both report that a group of alternative telecom service providers have issued a joint statement in support of the FCC's "third way" proposals. The statement from competitive local exchange carriers and independent ISPs claims that "investment and innovation result when the rules of the game are consistent and transparent and the playing field is level" and that "consumers benefit when there is more broadband competition offering more choices". It praises the FCC's proposal to use "tightly targeted forbearance and a light regulatory touch pursuant to Title II to ensure it can stop anti-competitive behavior that could harm consumers or the competitive broadband market", and asserts that the "third way" is "the necessary step to promote continued innovation, creativity, and investment in the technology sector that will result in economic growth and job creation."
  • Also mentioned in my previous postFree Press ("a national, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to reform the media") have published The Truth about the Third Way ("separating fact from fiction in the FCC reclassification debate"), which, according to this blog post, is intended to address "a string of misinformation campaigns (that) has muddied the discussion on reclassification - and can be traced back to incumbent phone and cable companies, their intense lobbying efforts, and their Astroturf groups". According to the report, "The essence of the FCC’s proposal - re-establishing the FCC’s authority over broadband networks - is a necessary first step in achieving the goals of the National Broadband Plan." Free Press' related Save the Internet coalition is "more than a million everyday people who have banded together with thousands of non-profit organizations, businesses and bloggers to protect Internet freedom".
  • The Open Internet Coalition have issued a statement in support of the FCC's "third way" approach: “Tomorrow, the FCC will begin a critical process to clarify the legal authority that was put into question by the decision in Comcast v FCC. The companies of the OIC praise Chairman Genachowski for putting forward a common-sense, narrowly drawn ‘third-way’ approach that if adopted, will allow the Commission to help extend high-speed broadband Internet access to all Americans, and make sure consumer choice over broadband Internet service is protected. Our Coalition continues to believe that action at the FCC is the fastest and most precise way to promote innovation and investment moving forward. Without fast, available, and open broadband, full participation in the global economy will remain unattainable. Tomorrow’s vote will ultimately help ensure broadband Internet is accessible for everyone, giving every person the ability to participate in the most important platform for economic growth and innovation in our nation’s history.” A list of OIC supporters is available here.
  • EDUCAUSE have published a useful primer on net neutrality as part of their "7 things you should know about..." series. An extract: " As an institution that was instrumental in developing the Internet, and as one of the largest producers and consumers of Internet content, higher education has a special interest in guaranteeing that the network remains as open as possible. Activities including research, collaboration, distance education, and provision of online services to campus constituents increasingly depend on equal and open access to online content. Moreover, many institutions of higher education are charged to serve the public interest. An Internet in which access to content is prioritized according to its economic benefit to the network operator would considerably limit an institution’s ability to fulfill this goal of public interest, as well as undermine their educational mission overall." The scenario on the first page is also worth a look.
  • National Journal's Tech Daily Dose reports that a "broad coalition of nonprofit groups have written FCC Chairman Julius Genachowskireiterating their support for his efforts...The letter, sent Tuesday, was signed by representatives from 150 groups including Color of Change, Common Cause, Free Press, the National Organization for Women, NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network, and others, many of which are local groups scattered throughout the country." A quote from the letter sent to the FCC: "By enabling an open, diverse and free-flowing Web, Net Neutrality has unleashed a tidal wave of civic participation. Our organizations rely upon an open Internet to spread the word about our work, engage more people in our issues, and build support at the grassroots level."
    And those against:
    • The Phoenix Center ("a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that studies broad public-policy issues related to governance, social and economic conditions, with a particular emphasis on the law and economics of telecommunications and high-tech industries") has published The Broadband Credibility Gap, a report arguing that the FCC's proposed light touch approach will not be credible and weakens investment incentives. In addition, the report suggests that the FCC "lacks the necessary self-discipline or mindset for “light touch” regulation." From the accompanying press release: "the cost of legal certainty is increased financial uncertainty in that reclassification greases the wheels of the regulatory machine...reduced private investment is the inevitable and natural consequence of reclassification."
    • A former FCC commissioner has accused the FCC of creating a "casino environment" with its proposals, again according to Connected Planet. Harold Furchtgott-Roth, an economist who served on the FCC in the late 1990s, argues that "what America needs is a commission that writes rules that with absolute certainty will withstand court scrutiny". In his opinion, the FCC has a "a history of creating rules that don’t fall within the law that puts all of the commission’s decisions at risk because no one knows how the courts will view those decisions". He also questions whether the FCC can in fact legally forbear from imposing certain Title II requirements on broadband as its proposals recommend.
    • The Advanced Communications Law & Policy Institute (ACLP) has published Net Neutrality, Investment & Jobs ("assessing the potential impacts of the FCC's proposed net neutrality rules on the broadband ecosystem"). The executive summary states that "the nation’s robust broadband ecosystem stems directly from the stable, light-touch regulatory approach that the FCC carefully developed and consistently implemented over the last several years. The innovative vibrancy evident throughout the broadband ecosystem is in danger of being undermined by FCC proposals, including the impending application of common carrier regulations to some elements of the Internet, that would both overturn decades of precedent and fundamentally alter existing and future business models of broadband service providers." Interestingly, one of the report's authors is Bret Swanson of exaflood fame, as described in a Wall Street Journal article published in January 2007.
    • Similarly, the Brattle Group ("provides consulting and expert testimony in economics, finance, and regulation to corporations, law firms, and governments around the world") have published The Employment and Economic Impacts of Network Neutrality Regulation: An Empirical Analysis. From the accompanying press release: "The study found that the net neutrality regulations currently under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would negatively impact the broadband sector and job growth in the US...Revenue growth in the broadband sector could slow by about one-sixth over the next decade...broadband sector jobs lost could be expected to total 14,217 in 2011, growing to 342,065 jobs by 2020...Economy-wide, 65,404 jobs could be put in jeopardy in 2011, with the total economy-wide impact growing to 1,452,943 jobs affected by 2020."
    • Verizon's CEO Ivan Seidenberg argued that the FCC's proposals are "overbearing" and will inhibit service providers' ability to invest in their networks in a recent speech to the Economic Club of Washington reported by FierceTelecom. A video of the speech is available here.
    Many more to follow I'm sure.

    Update, 18 June 2010: ACLP and Brattle Group reports added to the "against" list above.
    Update, 23 June 2010: Open Internet Coalition added to "for" list above.
    Update, 28 June 2010: Verizon speech added to "against" list and EDUCAUSE Net Neutrality Primer added to "for" list above.
    Update, 30 June 2010: Free Press, NTEN et al. letter added to "for" list.

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