President Obama issued a strong and specific statement Monday morning calling for the Federal Communications Commission to ensure network neutrality by classifying broadband providers as a utility under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act resulting in what I can only imagine were waves of spit takes in the offices of ISPs, newspapers and internet companies. Within 20 minutes of the president issuing his lengthy combined video and web proposal calling for Title II to apply not only to wireline but also to all wireless broadband and at interconnection points, Verizon had issued a statement threatening to sue if the FCC did as President Obama asked. Within just a few minutes, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) had posted an inflammatory tweet.
"Net Neutrality" is Obamacare for the Internet; the Internet should not operate at the speed of government.
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) November 10, 2014
And the commentary just kept coming. We’ve decided to roll as much as we could into a post that will help highlight the novel and high-quality thoughts on the web about the president’s statement and what it might mean for the internet. Feel free to read our coverage on the news here or my colleague Jeff John Roberts’ story about the political and legal issues the FCC will face here. But for deeper reading, dive on in to the following stories.
- Every statement made by anyone: Broadcasting & Cable pulled together the statements from Verizon, CTIA, Michael Copps, a former Democratic FCC Commissioner, and many others in this hodge-podge of statements on the president’s proposal. It won’t surprise you, but it’s nice if you want to figure out the words your Congressmen will be using in the weeks ahead to argue over the plans.
- Tim Wu on Comcast’s merger and the FCC’s middle ground: Over at The Verge, Nilay Patel did a sit down with Tim Wu, the man who coined the phrase net neutrality. Wu thinks the president’s actions were important and sincere and details the FCC’s next steps. He also digs into the role Comcast’s plans to buy Time Warner Cable have played into the network neutrality debate:
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”I think Comcast has made net neutrality feel a little more visceral and a little less hypothetical. The truth is that there have been way more comments on net neutrality after the Comcast merger. We live in a world of both cultural and political subcultures, and when people get fired up about things, they get fired up, and net neutrality is one of those issues. I would not underestimate the strength of the interest in net neutrality and that people care about it.”
- Why Obama decided to come out on Title II now: Brian Fung at the Washington Post argued it was Obama’s position as the punching bag for the Republican party and subsequent Democratic drubbing during the mid-terms that meant the president could now speak his mind now, but couldn’t do so before the elections.
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”Whatever its merits, imagine Cruz’s rhetorical argument being played and replayed in countless political ads around the country, tying Democratic candidates to Obama’s “government takeover of the Web.” As it happened, the midterms could hardly have turned out much worse for liberals. But adding net neutrality to the mix would not have helped.”
- What Obama’s statement doesn’t cover: The Wall Street Journal delved briefly into forbearance — the rules that the FCC will have to decline to enforce if it decides to regulate ISPs under Title II. The story’s co-author Gautham Nagesh also discussed the issue on Twitter.
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”While Mr. Wheeler’s so-called hybrid plan would be apply utility-like regulations to part of broadband, Mr. Obama wants the agency to reclassify the entire network under Title II of the Communications Act, then enact bright line rules banning broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, or giving preferential treatment to some websites.Mr. Obama also called for the FCC not to use its authority to regulate broadband prices or impose other outdated regulations designed for the phone network.”
- More on rate regulation and alternative points of view: Alex Howard has an excellent and link-filled run down of today’s news that covers the political climate, timing, opposing points of view and a bit more on the issue of forbearance.
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”Forbearing from rate regulation, or artificially controlling the price for a set level of service, would address one of the most significant objections to Title II that have been raised by American telecommunications companies. Other countries, like Argentina, are going a different route.”
- Understanding the nitty-gritty on forbearance: Should the FCC go forward with Title II the issue of forbearance is going to become hot. To understand what’s at stake, check out Harold Feld’s deep post on the legal history and issues around the topic.
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”Actual forbearance is a fairly straightforward 3-part process established in the Communications Act. Basically, the FCC needs to find that a section isn’t necessary to make sure that everything is working in a just and nondiscriminatory way, that the section isn’t necessary to protect consumers, and that not enforcing the section is consistent with the public interest.”
- What does an economics-loving conservative think? If you’re after a deeper discussion than the carriers going on about the end of innovation or Cruz’s crazy comments, check out this post from James Heaney on natural monopolies, hot dogs and why he thinks that conservatives have to support Title II reclassification as the best way to solve the problem of ISPs acting as natural monopolies without creating a huge government bureaucracy.
[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]”The fix to the growing monopoly problem is very, very easy, and several courts have pointed to it over the past several years: simply revisit the obviously nonsensical ruling of 2002. Overturn it, and (correctly) decide this time that Internet Service Providers are “telecommunications providers”. Instantly, every ISP in America would go back to common carrier status, and net neutrality regulation wouldn’t just become easy; in many ways, neutrality is baked into Title II. The FCC would gain many tools to reduce the risk of natural monopoly where it doesn’t exist, or its effects where it does. The market would be saved, the consumer freed from the tyranny of monopoly.”
I’m sure in the days ahead there will be plenty of other stories and insights to share. But what seems to be definitive in my reading and reporting on the topic is that the president’s statements caught many by surprise and that the FCC will now have to spend some time trying to get more data before its ready to claim Title II is the way forward. And that is going to take longer than the planned December vote on the open internet and will be something that we’re going to be discussing well into the new year. That means a decade since the net neutrality rules made their first appearance in 2005 we’ll still be discussing them.