Powell: Congress Should Settle Net-Neutrality Debate

NCTA Chief Uses USA Today Op Ed to Champion Legislative Action
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National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell took to USA Today to make his case against Title II.

Powell's op ed in the paper was paired with USA Today's editorial in support of FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for reclassification of Internet access service under the common-carrier regulatory regime.

The USA Today editorial board has concluded that Title II was the only way to avoid another court defeat of network-neutrality regs and that ISPs are uncompetitive companies that need the rules.

Powell, himself a former FCC chair, said that while USA Today had labeled his an opposing view, he is not opposed to strong net-neutrality rules, nor is the industry he represents. What he opposes, he said, is Title II-based rules, which he said would shackle the industry in an outdated legal regime, open the door to new price regulation, as well as taxes and fees, and slow investment and innovation.

Republican FCC commissioner Ajit Pai told reporters Tuesday (Feb. 10) that from what he has seen of the order, which was circulated to the other commissioners last week, it would indeed mean ex post facto rate regulation, as well as more taxes and fees and FCC micromanagement of interconnections.

"Even worse, by going down the legally risky road of Title II reclassification, we won't end the debate," Powell wrote. "We'll simply kick the problem to the courts (again), creating new uncertainties and leaving everyone who wants enforceable Internet rules in limbo."

Wheeler has agued his approach is meant to provide legal certainty by using various FCC authorities, including both Title II and Sec. 706, to buttress the rules.

Powell said the better way to do that is to let Congress clarify the FCC's authority.

"Congress has power to pass the strong, consensus net-neutrality rules that would avoid protracted court battles and genuinely put this issue to rest," he said. "Free from the jurisdictional limits that have driven the FCC into the Title II morass, Congress can enact stable, simple rules that protect the open Internet and ban paid prioritization without any unintended consequences or the economic damage that would be wrought by public utility regulation," Powell said.

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