WASHINGTON -- In its filing in the Federal Communications Commission's open Internet proceeding, Free Press provides the definitive argument for protecting Net Neutrality by reclassifying broadband providers as common carriers.
The 150-page filing lays out a detailed rationale for reclassification while skewering the FCC's ongoing efforts to avoid using the Title II approach. It also presents economic data demonstrating that common-carriage rules have coincided with the healthiest periods of investment and growth in the telecommunications sector.
The entire filing is available at: http://www.freepress.net/sites/default/files/resources/Free_Press_14-28_Comments_7-18-2014.pdf
"Common carriage is the glue that holds the Network Compact together and is the DNA of Network Neutrality," writes Free Press Research Director S. Derek Turner. "The people grant private companies the ability to build wealth off of their use of our public land and airwaves. In return for this, we expect that access to essential communications services is made available to all without undue discrimination."
Free Press' filing exposes one of the most persistent lies in Washington: that common carriage is a heavy-handed regulation that transforms profitable communications businesses into cash-strapped, government-run utilities.
"Unfortunately, common carriage is now a dirty word in Washington,” Turner writes. “This is not because of any flaw in that policy, but because for the past two decades some of the most powerful communications companies in America have waged a campaign to demonize common carriage and erase its historical importance. This shameful vilification of a core American value that has long acted as the glue to the communications social contract has only served to abet these companies’ market power and facilitate regulatory capture."
The filing also sets the record straight on how regulating ISPs under Title II has actually impacted investment. Free Press finds that telecom carriers’ average annual investment was 55 percent higher under the period of Title II’s application than it has been in the years since the FCC removed broadband from Title II. The cable sector’s biggest period of network investment also came after a federal appeals court in 2000 deemed cable-modem service a common carrier. Two years later, investment dropped sharply after the FCC changed how this service was treated under the law. Today, cable companies devote just 1 percent of their significant revenues to extending or upgrading their broadband networks.
The FCC's initial comment period was extended to midnight on Friday after a flood of public comments crashed the agency's website earlier in the week. The vast majority of the comments criticize FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposed path to protecting the open Internet — a flimsy legal argument that would allow broadband providers to favor the websites and services of the few wealthy companies that could afford their added tolls.
The filing also notes how the court in Verizon v. FCC clearly stated that unless the agency first classifies broadband providers as common carriers, those companies are legally permitted to degrade traffic. Indeed, the FCC's proposal at best would require every content provider to first negotiate with every ISP just to avoid being blocked, and they could then be discriminated against. "If the Commission’s overarching goal is to preserve innovation without permission,” Turner writes, “then it should not implement a legal framework that by its very design requires permission before innovation.
"... Once all of the myths and distortions about Title II are put to rest, it becomes clear that restoring common carriage is the best outcome for the public interest. A return to Title II’s sensible deregulatory approach will harmonize the regulatory framework for broadband with longstanding principles of communications law and policy. Most notably, it will reestablish the traditional distinction between connectivity and content — a distinction that has allowed speech and commerce to flourish while maintaining the integrity and stability of the nation’s communications infrastructure."