Is ‘Common Carrier’ the Answer to the Net Neutrality Question?

Cable companies are fighting against the possibility of classifying ISPs as common carriers, which would make them subject to regulation.

net neutrality

net neutrality

In the battle for net neutrality and an open Internet, the FCC — and its chairman Tom Wheeler — have gotten a lot of flak. Minn. Sen. Al Franken sent letters to the FCC and has spoken openly about the importance of maintaining the integrity of net neutrality. But there’s relatively little being said about the big cable companies fighting so hard for their fast lanes.

Part of the problem with enforcing net neutrality is that ISPs are exempt from the common carrier. Classifying the ISPs as a telecommunications service would grant the FCC real power to regulate it as such, which is exactly what the big ISPs don’t want. AT&T senior vice president Robert W. Quinn sent a letter to the FCC outlining the problems his company saw with classifying broadband providers as ‘common carriers.’

“Indeed, the logic behind reclassification would dictate that when a search engine connects an advertising network to a search request or effectuates a connection between a search user and an advertiser, it too would be providing a telecommunications service. And so too would an email provider that transmits an email or a social network that enables a messaging or chat session,” Quinn wrote.

According to advocacy groups, the idea that reclassifying an ISP as a common carrier would make every Internet-based service subject to the same regulation is laughable.

Matt Wood, policy director of consumer advocacy group Free Press, told Ars Technica, “Nothing in Title II says that every last provision has to apply to any Title II service. That’s the whole point of forbearance. The fact that broadband providers could be entitled to something doesn’t mean they actually are entitled to it, or that AT&T’s cost-causation story is true.”

Not only are cable companies like AT&T trying to lead the conversation, they’re apparently lobbying Congress heavily to vote their way. According to Free Press, cable-industry lobbyist Tom Downey is circulating a letter with a list of attached talking points. The letter asks that Congress members sign on to fight against reclassification, and it’s being championed by Texas Rep. Gene Green.

The cable industry has a vested interest in making sure they can continue doing business as they please. But despite all the bluster about growth, jobs and the future, the industry’s own numbers show a drop in investment.

Writes Vox contributor Matthew Yglasias: “The [cable] industry is acting like a low-competition industry, scaling back investment and plowing its profits into dividends and share buybacks and merger efforts.”