Rosenworcel Paid Prioritization Concerns On Display

Matsui Net Neutrality Forum Draws Crowd Paid Prioritization Critics

Sacramento appears to be filled with folks in favor of Title II and concerned with paid prioritization, including in the latter camp a temporarily transplanted FCC commissioner from Washington.

That was the impression left by a network neutrality public forum their hosted by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.), who represents Silicon Valley, and featuring FCC commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, where criticisms of the FCC's current proposal not to impose Title II regs drew polite cheers from the audience.

Not a discouraging word for reclassifying Internet access under Title II regs was heard from the five witnesses, which included a TV writer, librarian, Silicon Valley vet, utility commissioner and noncom TV executive, though the last took no official position.

Critics of Title II have argued that it is hardly a prophylactic against paid priority, but is definitely an investment and innovation downer that will wind up in years of litigation.

The forum focused on the impact, primarily a parade of horribles, associated with what witnesses and Matsui suggested was FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to create Internet fast and slow lanes via paid prioritization (Wheeler has said he doesn't think paid prioritization would pass muster under the proposed rules). The focus was no surprise. In June, Matsui teamed with Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to propose legislation banning paid priority.

Rosenworel clearly had concerns with paid prioritization, evident in her series of questions on the potential impact, including on the Internet of things, on programing and education.

Rosenworcel said she was pleased that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had recently made it clear that Title II reclassification was still on the table.

She asked witness and former Facebook exec Chris Kelly to identify some big name web sites that would have stayed small under a paid prioritization regime. He didn't get past Facebook, but his point was made, which was that it could nip startups in the bud.

She asked David Low, GM of noncommercial KVIE TV, whether he didn't think that given the popularity of PBS web sites and apps, that paid priority could raise the costs and lower the effectiveness of those educational entertainment tools. He did.

She asked Twilight saga screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg whether the explosion of new content platforms could cease under paid prioritization. Rosenberg said absolutely. " I agree," added Rosenworcel.

She asked Rivkah Sass, library director of the Sacramento Public Library, whether paid prioritization could limit access of her patrons to important educational resources. Sass said it could.

She gave Catherine Sandoval, a commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission (and historically in the conversation when FCC vacancies arise), free rein to weigh in on the impact on critical services and public safety. Sandoval did not disappoint, citing nuclear power plants, water pumps to put out fires and critical care smart beds for stroke patients,  for which she said minimum broadband speeds would not cut it. Sandoval also opined that public safety answering points (PSAPs) did not get a carve-out in the proposed network neutrality rules.

Rosenworcel said that public safety aspect of network neutrality was not talked enough about in Washington.

Matsui told her audience, which did not get to ask questions of the commissioners, that the hearing would be part of the official House Energy & Commerce Committee record, part of the FCC's record, and that she would share it specifically with the chairs and ranking members of the full committee and Communications Subcommittee.

Clyburn signaled she would be looking hard at whether net neutrality rules should be extended to wireless, given that for some populations, including minorities, it is the primary and sometimes only way many are accessing the 'net.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled that extending wired Open Internet rules is also on the table.