February 11, 2019
NCTA (National Cable TV Association) chief executive Michael Powell told Congress’ Communications and Technology subcommittee that the lobbying group agrees, “there should be no blocking or throttling of lawful content … [or] paid prioritization that creates fast lanes and slow lanes.” Even so, he did ask for exceptions that would allow Internet providers to charge for prioritization “under certain circumstances.” His request highlights the stark divide between the broadband industry and net neutrality advocates.
Ars Technica reports that the Obama-era FCC “banned paid prioritization as well as blocking and throttling, while Trump’s FCC overturned the ban on all three practices.” In Congress, the Democrats are trying to reintroduce a net neutrality law similar to that during the Obama era, while Republicans push back.
Although Powell, FCC chair from 2001 to 2005, decried “fast lanes and slow lanes,” he didn’t explain how Internet service providers can charge for prioritization in circumstances that create some “public benefit” without doing just that. He also did not define what could be considered “public benefit.”
Powell pointed out that net neutrality laws have “moved into the courts now four different times,” describing them as “caught in an infinite loop.” But, points out Ars Technica, “the cable industry helped create” that loop, first when “Comcast challenged the FCC’s authority to prevent throttling a decade ago, ultimately leading to the imposition of net neutrality rules.”
NCTA (and other groups) “sued the FCC to overturn the rules but lost in 2016.” NCTA didn’t give up pushing to end net neutrality, which the FCC did “after Trump appointed Ajit Pai chairman.”
Commerce committee chair Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-New Jersey) and Communications and Technology subcommittee chair Mike Doyle (D-Pennsylvania) deem the net neutrality repeal a “disaster,” while Annan Eshoo (D-California) described how Verizon throttled firefighters during the Mendocino Complex Fire last year. “People’s lives were at stake, and firefighters weren’t able to communicate with each other to get the directions they needed to do their jobs,” she said. “The 2015 Open Internet rules [that were repealed] could have prevented this because there were specific exemptions for public safety.”
Powell and former FCC chair Tom Wheeler debated the ban on paid prioritization, with Wheeler pointing out that, “prioritization of public safety activities was specifically allowed for under the 2015 rules.”
“It’s not just the firefighters and policemen who are affected by the lack of an open Internet,” said Wheeler. “It’s also the people who are the victims of those emergencies who themselves need to get online and are experiencing the same blocking or throttling realities and, as a result of the decision by the FCC, have nowhere to go.”
The sticking point for Powell and other supporters of the repeal of the 2015 rules are “FCC’s Title II authority over common carriers.” Wheeler argued “that Title II common carrier rules are important to safeguard Internet openness in the future.”