Powell Pledges Support for Net-Neutrality Bill

Says NCTA Open to Changes to Get Both Parties on Board

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association is solidly behind the Republican legislative effort to head off the FCC's reclassification of Internet access under Title II common carrier regs and is giving that support full voice in the Jan. 21 House Energy & Commerce Communications Subcommittee Committee hearing on draft legislation.

NCTA President Michael Powell, who as FCC chair helped preserve the information services definition of ISP's, plans to tell the subcommittee that the bill represents "a new path forward" that "achieves the aims of every stakeholder." That is according to his prepared testimony.

But Powell also signaled that NCTA is "entirely open" to changes in the bill "that would bring the two sides fully together." The "fully" may have been a stretch, since Democrats have not offered support to date for the Republican-backed proposal.

Powell suggests that one of the main things a legislative solution provides is certainty about the FCC's authority, which is what has been fueling the Open Internet debate and resulting in court decisions against the FCC.

The bill's backers, including NCTA, say it will prevent blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, and protect transparency, or what Powell calls the "foundational principals" of an open Internet

"The cable industry has always supported these basic principles," he says, "from the Four Freedoms first annunciated in 2005 [under then-chairman Powell]to the Open Internet Order that was approved in 2010. Cable companies did not appeal the 2010 order and still voluntarily abide by the rules it imposed." Actually, the largest ISP, Comcast, also has to abide by them per an NBCU deal condition, but has said it would do so in any event.

Powell also praises the bill's net neutrality carve-outs for "specialized services, reasonable network management needs, and actions taken to implement customer choices." Those are the exceptions that have been attacked by net neutrality activists and some Democrats as a giveaway to big business.

Powell says they are essential provisions to allow for "innovation and experiment."  "In the absence of a clear Congressional directive, the FCC will continue its attempts to force the round peg of open Internet policy into the square hole of existing statutory frameworks.

On a practical level, Powell argues that a legislative route would head off the inevitable court challenge to whatever the FCC did on its own.

While the FCC and net neutrality activists have argued that the industry's the trust us model of adhering to fundamental net neutrality principles is not a guarantee, that door swings both ways.

Powell also pledges his unwavering opposition to Title II reclassification. He says that even if the FCC forbears--does not apply--most of the regs, what it does apply under sections 201 and 202 could still lead to a number of "sweeping and intrusive regulatory burdens" including, but not limited to, "including detailed pricing mandates, forced unbundling and structural separation, resale obligations, and collocation requirements."

"Instead of leaving the FCC to find statutory authority in existing provisions of law, we must work together to craft new legislation that establishes unambiguous rules of the road for ISPs while also clearly defining the parameters of the FCC’s authority," he says.