Sprint's Hesse: Say No to Network Neutrality

WASHINGTON -- Sprint CEO Dan Hesse told a National Press Club luncheon here Oct. 24 that a Barack Obama administration likely means network neutrality rules with "horrendous implications."

In 2007, Obama promised that if he were elected he would appoint only pro-network neutrality FCC (Federal Communications Commission) members. "I want to maintain that basic principle in how the Internet functions and as president I'm going to make sure that is the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward," Obama said during an appearance on MTV.

Obama's Republican opponent, John McCain, is an implacable foe of network neutrality. Instead of promoting network neutrality laws, a McCain presidency would focus on creating open networks that would allow consumers to attach devices and use services of their choice as long as the devices and services do no harm to the network. Broadband providers would be allowed to manage their networks as they see fit.

When asked what the difference would be for telecommunications companies in a new administration, Hesse told the Press Club crowd, "For the telecom industry as a whole, probably what scares the industry the most about a Democrat administration is regulating the one, real shining star that's working really, really well, and that's the Internet."

Hesse said network neutrality mandates "would allow us as carriers to charge end users whatever we want, but it regulates what we could charge or what we could do with content and traffic and what have you to protect the network."

Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are co-sponsors of legislation introduced in the Senate by Byron Dorgan, D-S.D., and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, which would require broadband providers to treat all network traffic equally. The bill would allow broadband providers to create tiered pricing as long as there is equal access to each tier.

The proposal would strengthen the FCC's current network neutrality principles. In August 2005, the FCC declared that consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice, run applications and services of their choice, and plug in and run legal devices of their choice. The FCC also said consumers have a right to competition among network providers, application and service providers and content providers.

In August, the FCC found Comcast guilty of violating the agency's network neutrality rules when the cable giant throttled peer-to-peer BitTorrent traffic. The agency also found that Comcast misled consumers when it did not properly disclose its P2P policy. Comcast is challenging the ruling on the basis that the FCC exceeded its authority.

"One thing carriers have had to do for a long time is try to serve the interest of the many even if that means ratcheting back something for the few," Hesse said. "There have been situations in the past where someone is really gumming up the works for everyone else."

Network neutrality, Hesse said, was a contradiction in terms.

"In Orwellian terms -- where every word really means exactly the opposite of what the word says -- network neutrality is ... really net regulation," he said. "Regulating the Internet has really horrendous implications. Once it starts, where will it end?"