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Net Neutrality’s Demise and the Channel: Win, Lose or Draw?

Net neutrality
Lorna Garey

Lorna Garey

In honor of Cyber Monday, a few hundred businesses sent an open letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a last-ditch (and likely doomed despite the efforts of John Oliver, see video below) attempt to persuade Pai to reverse course on scrapping net neutrality rules. There were a couple of telco signatories – Blue Sky Telecom and Burlington Telecom – but for the most part, TSPs and ISPs are happy to see the end of utility-style oversight, where broadband is considered a telecommunications service and regulated under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

Verizon issued a statement saying it’s “very encouraged by Chairman Pai’s announcement today that the FCC will move forward next month to restore the successful light-touch regulatory framework for internet services.” It and other members of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association have reportedly spent more than $500 million on lobbying efforts to get to this point.

Broadly, this debate pitches ISPs against content creators and distributors. Net neutrality rules prohibited blocking or slowing down of web content and banned internet providers from prioritizing certain traffic. The Restoring Internet Freedom order would classify broadband Internet access as an “information service” and affirm the need for a uniform federal regulatory approach to apply to interstate information services, like broadband Internet access. ISPs would be required to disclose information about any plans to prioritize or throttle traffic, and the FTC would again be charged with protecting consumers from “unfair, deceptive, and anti-competitive practices.”

But what does all this mean for agents?

One argument for reversal is that investments in broadband networks declined under the net neutrality rules. The FCC contends that internet service providers pulled back on plans to deploy new and upgraded infrastructure and services, especially in rural and low-income communities. If removal of these regulations encourages new investments in broadband internet access services by local small businesses, that’s a win for partners. Some experts expect new, tiered service offerings, so you’ll have a role interpreting that additional fine print on customers’ plans. Will there be data caps, or will content from one particular content provider be given priority through paid prioritization?

There’s also an argument to be made that, given the government’s decision to subject mobile broadband to net neutrality regs, the current rules on traffic prioritization throw a wrench in 5G. Slower rollouts of 5G could hold back IoT initiatives.

In its new Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC also stated that net neutrality actually weakened online privacy by stripping the FTC of its jurisdiction over …

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5 comments

  1. Tim Dawson November 30, 2017 @ 7:17 am

    Get the government out of the business of managing the internet and let the free markets decide. The federal government should not be involved with Net Neutrality, healthcare or about anything else that will build huge bloated bureaucracies.

  2. Lorna Garey November 30, 2017 @ 7:31 am

    Applying that philosophy to telecom, do you think people in rural areas would have phone service if not for government mandates?

    I don’t buy that putting regulatory guidance in place to codify a philosophy that’s pretty simple — the internet is not a toll road — automatically translates to a bloated bureaucracy, either.

  3. Howard Cohen November 30, 2017 @ 12:10 pm

    In 1998 I wrote a chapter for the book “Real Law@Virtual Space” called “The Information SuperHighway Becomes a Toll Road”, which caused your comment above to jump out at me. Even back then it was clear that there would be the “haves”, the “have nots”, and the “have somes” which I actually believe has smoothed out over time.

    The whole concept of “regulating the internet” is intriguing in the context of the global internet. The currently deranged US government really cannot regulate the net. They can regulate domestic access, which eventually boils down to the simple question as to who should have any control over anything. The choice here seems to be between the large carriers, the government, or nobody. None are necessarily preferable.

    In the end, it is the end-user, our customers, who will be shortchanged. Regulation or non-regulation will result the same way. Personally, I would vote for non-regulation and let end-users vote with their buying power. Only one carrier has to do the right thing to give many a workable alternative. It seems to be the problem with our “free enterprise” system that it simply isn’t really free.

  4. Jeff Gaura November 30, 2017 @ 1:08 pm

    Howard, I agree with your position. No one entity can “govern” the internet as it is a global phenomenon. However, there will continue to be rogue checkpoints along the way that take the form of governments and corporations that set rules as information travels. Letting the market and the $ decide what the rules are is probably the best answer, when compared to all other chrrent choices.

  5. Lorna Garey November 30, 2017 @ 2:02 pm

    I am all for “let the market sort it out” when it comes to whether Amazon and Wal-Mart put small retailers out of business. However, we as a society have decided that not everything should be subject to the vagaries of capitalism. We don’t (for the most part) privatize schools, police, fire, public transportation, etc. because these are considered basics of a civilized society that need to be distributed equally and equitably to citizens. Do you really think any ISP is going to decide that it’s worth investing millions to extend broadband to low-income and rural areas without being required to? And if not, is that acceptable? If Netflix sees a startup threatening its dominance and offers the big providers $$ to freeze out the competition, is that acceptable?

    Title II wasn’t necessarily the most elegant way to regulate, I’ll give you that. Heck, it wasn’t elegant at all. But laissez-faire isn’t the right answer either, IMO.

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