CTIA: Strict Platform Parity Endangers Wireless Growth

Makes Pitch for Differentiated Open Internet Rules

CTIA: The Wireless Association President Meredith Attwell Baker delivered the opening remarks at a network neutrality event at the University of Pennsylvania entitled: "Should Wireless Technologies Be Regulated Differently?" Not surprisingly, her answer was an unqualified yes.

The FCC in 2010 did not apply the same Open Internet rules to wireless discrimination that it did to wired, citing different network management challenges, though it promised to monitor the space and revisit that call if necessary. In the new rules, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled that the call is being revisited, saying that extending the rules to the burgeoning wireless broadband space is on the table.

Baker suggests the idea should instead be tabled.

According to a copy of her prepared remarks, she told her audience that if Chairman Wheeler wants to successfully advance his espoused mobile agenda of freeing up more spectrum, using technology and market forces to make spectrum use more efficient, and promote infrastructure deployment, the FCC must avoid "layering on more intrusive regulation."

"If we treat wireless like fixed broadband, we not only will fail to meet the mobile moment, we may lose it for a generation." She called such "strict platform parity" a "danger."

Baker does not want to transplant wired rules onto wireless no matter which regulatory authority the FCC uses, but she is particularly unimpressed by Title II.

She calls that misguided and "contrary to clear congressional intent." She echoed the point recently hammered home by Title II foes that that route would lead to years of litigation, particularly if the FCC tried to apply it to wireless. And recent hybrid proposals using some combination of Sec. 706 and title II are no answer, she said.

"Hybrid approaches, forbearance models, and other legal complexities can’t salvage flawed legal theories.

Missing the "mobile moment," Baker said, could be particularly tough on communities of color.

"Who are at significant risk if we miss this Mobile Moment," she asked. "Recent data shows mobile broadband is critical to African-Americans and Hispanics in particular. These communities rely on their mobile devices to access the Internet at a high rate. For the 90 percent of Hispanics that depend on smartphones today; for the 90 percent of African Americans that call wireless “an essential service” today; and for the 100 percent increase since 2010 in low-income residents using mobile broadband."

At a Minority Media & Telecommunications Counsel net neutrality even this week, Allison Remsen, executive director of Mobile Future argued that applying wired regs to wireless could threaten innovative efforts to get low-cost broadband service to all those who need it, which in the Internet economy is everyone. Baker agrees.

"The mobile-specific framework is working to get more Americans online and connected," she said. "Some have attempted to argue the opposite and the need to avoid “two Internets.” In their view, because some groups depend more on mobile broadband, we need to apply fixed rules on it.

"We disagree, the FCC needs to maintain the approach that has enabled robust wireless competition and provided the opportunities for millions to get online for the first time. The success of mobile broadband as a tool for connectivity calls for continued regulatory restraint -- not a drastic shift toward public utility regulation."

The FCC is currently working on the new rules, but Wheeler has set no deadline for voting on them.