NCTA’s McSlarrow Frames ISP Debate

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As the Federal Communications Commission prepared last week for its first workshop on the free-speech implications of network neutrality (Dec. 15), National Cable & Telecommunications Association President Kyle McSlarrow said he wanted to make sure the debate was not framed as one of Internet-service providers versus free speech and openness.

The commission has pledged an extensive fact-finding and comment-mulling process before it produces a final proposal for codifying and expanding its network-neutrality guidelines.

The chairman back in September signaled he was going to do take on network neutrality, arguing it was an effort to preserve a free and open Internet, not regulate it.

The move dovetails with the FCC’s current priority of coming up with a national broadband rollout plan.

The face-to-face part of vetting the network-neutrality proposal began last week with a workshop on technical issues — essentially a tutorial on how networks work — and continues this week with one on “Speech, Democratic Engagement, and the Open Internet.”

Two more are scheduled for January on “innovation and investment” and “consumers and transparency.”

Given that emphasis on speech at this week’s workshop, McSlarrow wanted to make sure that ISPs did not start the discussion on the defensive, arguing that it was wrongly crafted network neutrality rules that could chill speech and discourage innovation, not the ISPs.

McSlarrow said last week he thought it was possible for the FCC to craft a nondiscrimination principle that did not trample on First Amendment rights, saying it mattered a lot how discrimination and network management were defined, and he said it was a rulemaking process “we want to be part of.”

But he left no doubt he thought the rules were unnecessary, and the real threat to an open and innovative Internet.