Supporters of net neutrality got a boost from an unlikely source on Friday as telecom giant Sprint stated in a letter to the FCC that it would support so-called “Title II” regulation, which is the only legal tool that the agency can use to ensure internet providers can’t favor some websites over others.
The filing is significant because, until now, the telecom industry has been largely opposed to the use of Title II. Here is the key passage from the letter (my emphasis):
So long as the FCC continues to allow wireless carriers to manage our networks and differentiate our products, Sprint will continue to invest in data networks regardless of whether they are regulated by Title II, Section 706, or some other light touch regulatory regime.
This position stands in stark contrast to what other carriers, including [company]Verizon[/company] and [company]AT&T[/company], have espoused. In particular, the carriers have warned that Title II would provide a major disincentive to invest in upgrades to their internet offerings.
Sprint’s letter, which can be read in full below, comes before an important FCC meeting on February 26 at which the agency is expected to vote on new rules for the internet. The process became necessary after a major court decision one year ago that struck down a prior version of the FCC’s net neutrality rules.
While wireless data providers like [company]Sprint[/company] were not covered by the earlier net neutrality rules, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has hinted strongly that they will be included in whatever new regime the agency imposes.
The letter from Sprint also represents an ongoing shift in momentum in favor of Title II, which appeared to be a long shot at the outset of the process.
Last spring, FCC Chairman floated a plan that would have allowed internet providers to offer special “fast lanes” to preferred websites, but soon reversed course. Meanwhile, companies like Netflix and comedian John Oliver also helped to increase consumers’ support for net neutrality.