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Net neutrality: Growing flames of criticism lick FCC chief's secret plans

Washington Post and Internet Innovation Alliance oppose Title II regulation of broadband

As the big vote on new net neutrality rules draws close, opposition to the FCC chairman's plan to reclassify broadband under so-called Title II legislation is growing.

On Thursday, the Washington Post formally came out against the idea, arguing that such an approach would "expose broadband providers to a new world of federal regulation." Even though the FCC commissioners have said they will not impose "onerous" regulations, future commissioners may, notes the Post.

It also takes up the most recent argument put forward by those opposed to the proposed rules: that power will be pulled away from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is adept at handling consumer issues, and hand it to the FCC, which has far less of a pedigree in handling such matters.

Instead, the paper favors a new legislative approach – although it notes that Congress's rush-job effort to preempt the FCC is going nowhere and contains specific clauses that limit the FCC's authority.

In itself, this is an extraordinary turnaround given that no one seriously considered Congressional legislation as even a remote possibility just a few weeks ago.

Meanwhile, another report claiming that using Title II would damage investment in broadband networks has appeared, although this one doesn't appear to come from the usual suspects.

The Internet Innovation Alliance, whose members include not just big cable but also a range of non-profit groups, draws a comparison to what is happening in Europe and makes two main claims:

  1. That Europe is actively relaxing rules around broadband in order to spur investment in networks, and
  2. That the US is investing much more and expanding much faster than Europe is in terms of broadband networks - both wired and wireless

Put the two together and the answer is: Title II is bad for investment. The report even comes with a handy infographic.

No doubt, the report will be pored over by pro-Title II advocates in the coming days, and flaws in its logic loudly proclaimed. But in the meantime, it has been picked up and promoted by FCC commissioner Ajit Pai who is acting as a lightning rod for many of the concerns about the proposed rules, which are still secret.

Pai was joined earlier this week by fellow Republican FCC commissioner Michael O'Reilly in a statement in which he made the same broad points as the Washington Post's editorial, and even includes a soundbite about "forebearance" or the rules actually being "fauxbearance" - something that indicates the issue is heading into the partisan politics of Washington where everything for some reason needs to rhyme. ®

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