D.C.'s Take on Title II, Take III

No Shortage of Opinions From Capital City's Policy Makers, Legislators
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Washington's input on Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler's controversial Title II Open Internet order continued to reverberate late Wednesday (Feb. 4) and into Thursday with more lawmakers and interested policy groups announcing objections and support.

THE OBJECTIONS

"Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to enforce net neutrality through Title II means that, going forward, the Internet will no longer be free of government control and regulation," said Patrick Maines, president of The Media Institute, a media-industry backed free-speech think tank. “Historians may one day note the hypocrisy of a regulatory scheme put in place by an allegedly independent agency, in direct consequence of the tandem lobbying efforts of the White House and Google.”

Wheeler initially proposed a non-Title II approach to the legal underpinning of new network-neutrality rules. He appeared to many to pivot strongly toward Title II after President Obama as much as asked him to go that route, but Wheeler has said he was considering the Title II option, as well as others, before that.

“Congress must use its powers and act immediately to stop President Obama’s radical ‘public utility’ Internet plan — or completely shut the FCC, a supposedly independent agency that has embarrassingly become an appendage of White House political staff,” said Phil Kerpen, president of free-market, small-government proponent American Commitment. “Despite November’s landslide election results rejecting larger and more intrusive government, President Obama moved even further to the left and openly demanded that the FCC take the most radical action imaginable: reducing the Internet to a ‘public utility,’ imposing sweeping new taxes and destroying private investment, competition and innovation while putting bureaucrats firmly in control.”

Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro praised the FCC's ends, but not the means.

“We commend the FCC for recognizing the path forward involves a free, competitive and open Internet," he said. "However, the rules chairman Wheeler outlined today don’t strike the right balance, failing to encourage the competition and investment needed to keep the Internet growing and thriving. “There is a need for a reasonable and balanced approach, and reclassification to Title II isn’t it. Title II would slow down broadband investment, dampen industry innovation and, ultimately, hurt consumers. We look forward to continuing our work with the FCC to ensure a bipartisan compromise can be reached.”

The FCC decision did not sit well with fixed wireless Internet service provider Lariat.net or founder Brett Glass.

"When we started the world's first wireless Internet service provider, or WISP, 25 years ago, we were able to innovate without permission and without onerous regulatory constraints and were able to bring fast Internet to areas which were otherwise economically infeasible to serve," Glass said in a statement. "Today's announcement marks the Federal Communications Commission's third attempt in a decade to seize control of the 'Net and cut off this fount of innovation, serving the interests of politically powerful, monied corporations such as Google at the expense of the public interest."

THE SUPPORT

But plenty of folks were in Wheeler's Title II corner as well.

“The ALA commends the chairman for asserting FCC authority under both Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to provide the strongest possible legal foundation for network-neutrality rules,” said Larra Clark, deputy director of the American Library Association Office for Information Technology Policy. “We also are pleased these rules will apply to both fixed and mobile broadband, which ALA has long advocated.”

Ellen Bloom, senior director of federal policy for Consumers Union, saw Wheeler's decision as a victory.

“The battle’s far from over, but this is a victory for consumers, for sure," Bloom said. "The FCC chairman is right – the best way to ensure the Internet is open and competitive is to reclassify broadband as a common carrier under Title II. This would provide the strong consumer protections we need to keep companies like Comcast and Verizon from becoming all-powerful gatekeepers of the Internet."

To Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who whose district includes Sillicon Valley hub San Jose, the more than 4 million public comments filed at the FCC indicated the agency has the public's support on Title II reclassification.

“The record-breaking number of comments received by the FCC left no doubt that the public supports strong net-neutrality rules,"  Lofgren said. "I’m pleased Commissioner Wheeler has recognized that public sentiment today and put forward a good plan to use Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections.

“These protections, including bans on blocking, throttling or prioritizing Internet traffic based on source, application, or content, will bolster innovation and self-expression across the nation and around the world," she added. "Large technology companies, small app developers, movie and television writers, public advocacy organizations, and the public at large all stand to benefit from a free and open internet."

The rules do not apply to the edge provider companies that supply net content, only to the Internet service providers' networks and last-mile connections.

“Today's proposed rules are a critical step in the process of closing the economic, educationa, and other racial equity gaps that disadvantage communities of color," said Steven Renderos, national organizer at the Media Action Grassroots Network. "The new generation of civil rights leaders that has emerged to tackle these divides applauds chairman Wheeler’s proposal to ground strong net neutrality rules in Title II authority."

Amina Fazlullah, director of policy at the Benton Foundation, said, "After months of public debate, the [FCC] seems poised to adopt rules that will ensure that consumers retain their rights to utilize any legal applications, content, devices and services of their choosing on the broadband networks they use."

Fazlullah aptly used the word "poised" because the chairman has simply announced an item that is being circulated. It will not be voted until Feb. 26, though it is expected to have enough votes in essentially the same form advertised to pass. That will be the other two Democrats on the commission, since the Republicans are strongly opposed to Title II reclassification.

"This will be a huge victory for Internet users for years to come," Fazlullah said. "The Internet is one of the great engines of democratic and economic activity in human history – and the FCC’s proposed openness rules will help ensure that it remains a platform for all users, content creators, and innovators, regardless of their ability to pay infrastructure owners for access."

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