A repost of my FCC Filing on "Restoring Internet Freedom"
I’m writing to encourage the commission to keep the existing Title II based regulation of internet service providers. Over the past decades, America has seen consolidation in both the wired and wireless service providers. Today most Americans have only once choice for broadband service, usually their cable providers. By its very nature, providing last mile service is extraordinarily difficult for new providers to enter a market, given the capital costs, access to rights of way, permitting, and addressing community concerns about construction. Much like power and water, this has created a situation where the free market only allows for one or two competitors. This is the classic model of a monopoly. When a market does not naturally lend itself to competition, governments must step in to protect consumers from profit seeking corporations using their monopoly power to extract unreasonable profits from them. The free and open internet that FCC proposal 17-60 claims to cherish must be protected from monopolies. The FCC must regulate internet service providers for what they are, utilities, and the way to do this within the existing Telecommunications Act powers that the FCC is charged with enforcing are through Tittle II.
The decrease in network investment that the Commission is using as the justification for reversing course on the 2-year-old (point #4) rules appears to be either unfounded, or far too premature to justify the reversal. While there was a decrease in 2015 as the rules were being established, 2016 saw billions in increased spending from some of the largest providers including Comcast and AT&T.
The proposal goes on to question the need for bright line rules in point #76 on the basis that consumers have yet to be harmed by them, then goes on to suggest eliminating the transparency rules that allow consumers and the FCC to gather any proof of harm. Removing these rules is dangerous, as providers were already demonstrating their willingness to take advantage of their monopoly position before Title II rules were put in place. Paid Prioritization amounts to protection money that providers are trying to extort from content providers, trying to charge twice to transport the same data. The internet backbones have long operated on peering agreements (point #87) where providers exchanging roughly the same amount of data would connect their networks without charging for data. Last mile internet service providers were attempting to extort companies like Netflix to pay them extra on top of the peering agreement with backbone providers to be allowed to connect to their customers. The last mile providers subsequently refused to upgrade their interconnect with backbone providers transferring Netflix’s data to try and pressure them into paying what amounted to extorted protection money. Meanwhile, before Title II providers such as Verizon were injecting “super cookies” into customers’ packets to allow them to sell their customers tracking data, and Comcast was blocking certain traffic such as BitTorrent.
Wireless providers in some markets have marginally more direct competition than wired service providers, but are oligopolies at best. Until recently, wireless competition consisted of various zero-rating schemes, which is just a way to make paid prioritization and packet manipulation more attractive to consumers. AT&T Wireless introduced perhaps the most anti-competitive plan that made streaming video from their DirecTV subsidiary free to customers, while metering all other video providers. While this can be seen as a nice perk for customers who bundle all of their services together with AT&T, it is clearly anti-competitive to all other video service providers.
All of these examples contradict point #76’s assertion of no harm. Point #89 of the proposal questions the need for transparency, implying that end users can just choose to go to a provider with stated terms that they won’t do any of the above. Nothing has changed in the market since the introduction of the existing Title II rules that would imply that the monopoly internet services providers who were already interfering with customers’ service as stated above would resist the urge to return to their former behavior, and as stated earlier, most consumers simply do not have a choice in their broadband provider.
I wholeheartedly urge the FCC to keep the existing Title II regulations in place. The courts have already ruled that Section 706 was inadequate to enforce net neutrality rules, and that Title II was the correct path. Returning to Section 706 would be accepting that the FCC is not going shirk its mission, and do nothing to protect consumers.
Gregory Owen Leeds