THE LEDE: AT&T is encouraging regulators to take a middle-of-the-road approach to regulating the Internet. In comments filed with the Federal Communications Commission Thursday, AT&T urged the agency to ban business deals to increase Internet speeds for some users as it rewrites its net neutrality rules without reclassifying Internet providers to regulate them like telephone companies.
The agency does not need to reclassify Internet providers to give the FCC broader regulatory power over them, AT&T said. Instead, it can rely on the legal authority highlighted by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the federal court that struck down the agency’s original net neutrality rules earlier this year. That authority — Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act — is all that the FCC needs to avoid a “two-tiered” web, AT&T said. That opinion stands in stark contrast to consumer advocates and Democrats on Capitol Hill, who have urged the commission to reclassify Internet providers.
According to AT&T, the FCC could either prohibit Internet providers from charging websites for better access to users outright or impose “additional safeguards” to protect Web users from abuse without reclassification. “By adopting either approach, the Commission could eliminate any potential threat from paid prioritization in a legally defensible way without undermining the investment and innovation-friendly climate that has driven growth in the Internet ecosystem for the last two decades,” it said.
Like other cable and Internet companies before it, AT&T warned the FCC that reclassifying the Internet could lead to years of lawsuits. “Reclassification would mire the industry in years of uncertainty and litigation, and it would abruptly stall the virtuous circle of investment and innovation that has propelled the United States to the forefront of the broadband revolution and that is recognized as essential to continued economic growth and prosperity,” it added. “Particularly because the Commission can address paid prioritization under section 706, there is no justification for inviting such regulatory chaos.”
The argument could be a boon to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has appeared skeptical of reclassifying the Internet as a “telecommunications service,” a move that would surely be met with blowback from telecom firms and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Wheeler agreed to examine reclassification after his initial plan, which allowed “commercially reasonable” deals to speed up some traffic, generated an outburst from critics.
ITI backs ‘light touch’: AT&T wasn’t the only one with new comments out on Thursday. The Information Technology Industry Council came out against reclassification, which the trade group said “may raise difficult definition questions... create investment disincentives.... and possibly encourage foreign governments to impose onerous regulation of even Internet services.” In a blog post, vice president of government affairs Vince Jesaitis bemoaned “slogans, catch phrases, and half-truths” that have been “thrown around” during the net neutrality debate. Jesaitis said that his group is pushing for an “important balance” between allowing new companies to get in the game and protecting investment in network infrastructure.
OTI says reclassification fights ‘full scope of harms’: The FCC should reclassify the Internet to ensure that Internet providers can’t block or slow access to any websites or charge “tolls” to companies for sending traffic their way, the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute’ claimed in its filing. That would ensure protection “against the full scope of harms, and the Commission could implement a bright-line rule that creates a presumption against discrimination as well as either banning access fees outright or requiring that such fees be applied in a manner that is consistent for all parties.”
Wyden wants more comments: Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) led an 11th-hour push to get online activists to file comments before Friday evening’s deadline. In a YouTube video and post on Reddit, the net neutrality advocate said “the FCC needs to know that Americans will not accept an Internet controlled by big cable.” He urged the public to push the FCC to reclassify the Web and said that past victories for online advocates have shown that “your voices matter.”
McCaskill plans cable bill hearing this fall: Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she hopes to hold a hearing on truth-in-billing issues with cable and satellite companies this fall. In June, McCaskill began collecting complaints from constituents about deceptive billing practices from cable and satellite companies and said she was “laying the groundwork” for a bill “aimed at bringing transparency and fairness to cable, satellite, and other pay-TV billing practices.”
Off the Senate floor Thursday, McCaskill — chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection — said she has seen a “huge” response from constituents unhappy with unexpected charges on their cable and satellite bills. McCaskill said her subcommittee has, up to this point, “been a little busy” with the issue of General Motors's ignition defects. Once the panel wraps up it’s work on auto safety issues, “then we can clear the decks to do the satellite, cable truth-in-billing," she said.
McCain keeping an eye on sports blackout rules: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he’ll keep pressuring the FCC to drop its decades-old rules that keep cable and satellite companies from airing sporting events to customers across the country if those games are “blacked out” in the geographic market where they’re being played due to low attendance. McCain, along with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), has long pushed the FCC to abandon its rules, which would still allow sports leagues — most notably the NFL — to negotiate with cable and satellite companies to black out games. Frustrated with agency inaction since a December vote, McCain and Blumenthal wrote to Chairman Wheeler in June asking for a vote on ending the sports blackout rules this summer.
In a letter last month, Wheeler responded, telling the senators that he has asked the agency’s Media Bureau to complete its review and provide recommendations to the Commission by “early fall.” McCain said he “absolutely” plans to press the issue again if need be. “Everybody loves it, except the [team] owners,” he said.
Twitter hit over diversity stats: Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH coalition is calling on Twitter to release statistics about diversity at its offices, like companies including Facebook and Google have already done. The Silicon Valley giants have been praised for their transparency, but also criticized for the lack of women, African-American and Hispanic employees.
The Congressional Internet Caucus Advisory Committee is holding a briefing on the National Security Agency and “the damage to U.S. commerce, confidence and credibility” on Capitol Hill at noon.
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