Big Broadband: Regulating Internet Like a Utility Would Stifle the Internet

FCC's Wheeler is caught in the middle

The Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler is getting it from all sides on his net neutrality proposal—caught between consumer groups, big Internet companies, and now big broadband providers, all of whom are decidedly unhappy.

A group of the nation's biggest broadband providers—plus the lobby groups that represent them—wrote to five FCC commissioners Tuesday warning that regulating the Internet like a public utility (known as Title II) would stifle Internet investment and would still allow "paid prioritization," the key war cry of the protesters.

"As demonstrated repeatedly, the future of the open Internet has nothing to do with Title II regulation, and Title II has nothing to do with the open Internet," the letter said.

The signers—including Lowell McAdam, the chairman and CEO of Verizon, Brian Roberts, the chairman and CEO of Comcast, and former FCC chairman Michael Powell, the president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association—reminded the FCC that a light regulatory touch (using Powell's words) has led to $1.2 trillion of investment in wired and wireless broadband, and 11 million jobs annually.

"Under Title II, new service offerings, options, and features would be delayed or altogether foregone. Consumers would face less choice, and a less adaptive and responsive Internet. An era of differentiation, innovation, and experimentation would be replaced with a series of 'Government may I?' requests from American entrepreneurs," the group said.

Cautioning that Title II would also lead to legal troubles, the group said: "Those demanding the Title II common carrier approach are effectively compelling years, if not decades, of endless litigation and debate."

Although no one except the FCC has seen the precise language, Wheeler has been under siege by consumer groups, Internet companies, and Congressional Democrats that are doing everything they can to convince the FCC that tighter rules afforded by Title II is the way to go to "save the Internet." The FCC has been bombarded by emails, phone calls, letters and even an ongoing protest staged outside the FCC offices in Washington, D.C.

Wheeler has reportedly been trying to appease the Title II advocates and win votes of the other two Democratic commissioners by revising the language of the proposal.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on a rulemaking to craft new net neutrality rules on Thursday. There will be a comment period before the rules are finalized by the end of the year.