ISPs Tell FCC Title II Has 'Nothing to Do With the Open Internet'

Internet service providers say a proposed Title II reclassification of their businesses would stunt innovation and service offerings.

There are two sides to every story, and the companies backing the less publicly popular position on the net neutrality debate voiced their concerns to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in a May 13 letter.

Twenty-eight companies, including AT&T, Verizon, Cox Communications, Cablevision, CTIA, Comcast and Time Warner Cable, called on the FCC to reject calls to classify Internet service providers (ISPs) as Title II telecommunications services and "categorically reject" efforts to equate Title II with an open Internet.

The companies said they are "committed" to working with the FCC to find a "sustainable path to a lawful regulatory framework for protecting the open Internet" and are concerned about the public equating a Title II reclassification with keeping an open Internet.

"As demonstrated repeatedly, the future of the open Internet has nothing to do with Title II regulation, and Title II has nothing to do with the open Internet," they wrote.

They continued, deeper into the letter:

"Groups pushing the Title II approach fail to acknowledge that their path forward is in fact a slippery slope that would provide the Commission sweeping authority to regulate all Internet-based companies and offerings. ... Proponents now argue that reclassification is necessary to prohibit 'paid prioritization,' even though Title II does not discourage—let alone outlaw—paid prioritization models. Dominant carriers operating under Title II have for generations been permitted to offer different pricing and different service quality to customers.

"... Under Title II, new service offerings, options and features would be delayed or altogether foregone. Consumers would face less choice, and a less adaptive and responsive Internet. An era of differentiation, innovation and experimentation would be replaced with a series of 'Government may I?' requests from American entrepreneurs. That cannot be, and must not become, the U.S. Internet of tomorrow."

The companies also complained that the talk alone of Title II has had the "investment-chilling effect" of hurting stock prices, by 10 percent in some cases, and that Title II backers fail to consider where the next hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to improve and expand the networks will come from under a "Title II regime."

Calls to reclassify ISPs newly arose after a January ruling by a U.S. District Court, which, in a judgment on the case of Verizon vs. the FCC, found that Verizon didn't need to adhere to FCC net neutrality rules—the practice of treating all Internet traffic equally—because the FCC doesn't classify ISPs as common carriers. Unlike contract or private carriers, common carriers offer services to the public without discrimination.

The FCC also received a letter May 13 from a long list of creative professionals—Oliver Stone, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Stipe, Fred Armisen and the band OK Go among them—asking it to protect the Internet from "pay-for-priority schemes."

"The Internet is the communications medium of our era. Serving as a platform to anyone with an idea, the open Internet empowers freedom of speech and freedom of expression," they wrote. "But the FCC is now proposing rules that would kill—rather than protect—Net Neutrality and allow rampant discrimination online. Under these rules, telecom giants ... would be able to pick winners and losers online and discriminate against online content and applications."

Gigi Sohn, a former public advocate and now the special counsel to FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, hosted a Twitter Chat May 13 to "engage" with the public ahead of a controversial May 15 meeting during which Wheeler will share his new proposed rules for the Internet.

Wheeler has said that he's against the slowing or blocking of any Internet traffic, but he hasn't come out against the practice (as Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has) of letting companies pay for extra-fast service.

FCC commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai have both publicly called for a delay to the May 15 proposal. Rosenworcel, asking for a delay of at least a month, said the extra time would "respect the public response" and enable the Commission to be "holding forth, answering questions and explaining what is before us with regular sessions—not in Washington, but over the Internet, through social media, and broadly accessible to the public."

Wheeler Tweeted May 13, "Title II is a viable option we're considering. We are listening and welcome continued discussion."

Follow Michelle Maisto on Twitter.