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FCC Release of Net Neutrality Order Draws Mixed Reactions

Josh LongThe Federal Communications Commission this week released its 400-page Open Internet Order, generating mixed reactions from the telecommunications industry, consumer groups and others.

The FCC’s “decision is rooted in the opinions, arguments, and legal reasoning of almost 4 million people in the extensive record gathered through this transparent process,” said Chris Lewis, vice president of government affairs with Public Knowledge, a consumer group.

CompTel, a trade organization representing a number of telecommunications carriers, was pleased that the FCC adopted a process for hearing disputes over interconnection of networks.

“Interconnection is the first amendment for the open Internet,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of CompTel, in a statement. “As such, we look forward to the Commission fulfilling the promise of today’s order by promptly adjudicating disputes regarding interconnection and traffic exchange practices and confirming that ISPs’ attempts to extract tolls for the delivery of Internet traffic are unlawful.”

Others were less complimentary of the so-called Net neutrality rules, which the FCC voted 3-to-2 to adopt last month along party lines.

The regulations treat broadband as a telecommunications service, prohibit blocking and slowing down of Web content, and ban Internet providers from prioritizing certain traffic.

Internet providers also must disclose information about their commercial terms and network management practices. The transparency rule requires additional disclosures beyond a previous regulation that was upheld last year by a federal appeals court.

Fixed and mobile broadband services are subject to the order, whose release marks the beginning of “a period of uncertainty that will damage broadband investment in the United States,” according to Jim Cicconi, an AT&T senior executive vice president.

“Ultimately, though, we are confident the issue will be resolved by bipartisan action by Congress or a future FCC, or by the courts,” Cicconi said in a statement.

The order is expected to face legal challenges, and Republicans on Capitol Hill have pressed for a legislative solution that they contend would be less burdensome than the FCC’s regulations.

The Telecommunications Industry Association, which represents manufacturers and suppliers of communications networks, blasted the FCC’s decision to regulate broadband service as a telecommunications service.

“The FCC order confirms that Title II is a Trojan horse …

.. that will open the door to heavy government control of the Internet and create marketplace uncertainty,” TIA CEO Scott Belcher said in a statement. “With Title II in place, there is little to stop future commissioners from instituting government price controls or other market-distorting regulations.”

Free Press, a consumer group that had been lobbying for Internet regulations adopted by the FCC, characterized as “ridiculous” criticisms by phone and cable companies.

“This is not a government takeover of the Internet or an onerous utility-style regulation. Any claims that these rules create new taxes or harm investment have been completely debunked,” Free Press policy director Matt Wood said.

The FCC on Thursday sought to combat a number of “myths” surrounding the order, including the view that consumers will get stuck with higher bills.

“Nothing in the Order imposes or authorizes new taxes or fees. In fact, the Internet Tax Freedom Act currently bans state and local taxes on broadband access regardless of how the FCC classifies it,” the agency declared in a press release.

While cable and phone interests have said Title II regulation is burdensome, the FCC said it has chosen to refrain or forbear from applying 27 Title II provisions, and more than 700 related regulations that are unrelated to broadband.

Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon who chairs the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, still isn’t a proponent of Title II regulation.

“I can’t stress enough the damage that I believe this Title II approach will have on our country’s broadband speed and deployment — this may truly be the end of the Internet we know and love, if these rules withstand a court challenge,” Walden said March 2 in prepared remarks at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.


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