President Barack Obama has held up municipal broadband networks as an example of the need to regulate the internet, but many of those very networks are now saying they oppose the idea.
Just this week, a coalition of 43 municipal broadband providers sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler saying that while they “are strong supporters of net neutrality and an open Internet,” they are “staunchly opposed … to the reclassification and regulation of this service as common carriage under Title II of the Communications Act.”
In a symbolic rebuke to Obama, one of the networks that signed the letter was Cedar Falls Utilities, which Obama singled out during a speech in January to make the point that government-run broadband networks can operate as well as, if not better than, private providers.
The company told National Journal last week that it was “thrilled” to have received the president’s praise, but “was less excited” about his consistent support for Title II regulations.
Net neutrality refers to the concept that internet service providers should not be allowed to either block legal content or prioritize certain types of content by charging fees for faster access speeds, and while those goals have broad support in principle, there has been considerable debate over how to accomplish them in practice.
Last week, Wheeler officially released his “Open Internet” proposal for achieving net neutrality by regulating wireless broadband networks under Title II, the same statute that applies to landline telephones, claiming the move “provides the broad legal certainty required for rules guaranteeing an open Internet.”
The municipal networks, however, argue that, “as smaller ISPs, we do not have an incentive to harm the openness of the Internet,” explaining that due to competition from private providers, each of them must “compete hard to attract and serve customers who would depart to our competitors if we engage in any business practices that interfere with their Internet experience.”
Moreover, they write, “we fear that Title II regulation will undermine the business model that supports our network,” pointing out that Title II would open the door to rate regulation, which could interfere with their ability to recover operating costs. The letter further notes:
The fact that at the present time the present Commission apparently does not plan to impose rate regulation, offers at best cold comfort [because however sincere the current commissioners may be, they cannot bind the actions of a future Commission].
The economic harm will flow not from following net neutrality principles but from the collateral effects of a change in regulatory status that will trigger consequences beyond the Commission’s control.
This report, by Peter Fricke, was cross-posted by arrangement with the Daily Caller News Foundation.