Comcast: We Agree With President On Net Neutrality, Except We Don’t

Comcast, like someone on house arrest who can’t stop talking about how much he loves just staying at home, can’t shut up about its alleged “support” of net neutrality — a support that was forced upon it as a condition of its 2010 acquisition of NBC. Now the nation’s largest Internet service provider is publicly stating that it “agrees” with President Obama’s feelings on neutrality, just not the ones that actually matter.

In yet another blog post, Comcast’s Executive Spin Doctor David Cohen writes that it’s “remarkable” when you compare the President’s stance on net neutrality with the things that Comcast has claimed to support… because it is legally obliged to support them.

Cohen lists the following as facets of the President’s neutrality stance that Comcast agrees with and which it practices — Free and open Internet; No blocking; No throttling; Increased transparency; No paid prioritization.

These are all conditions of the 2010 Open Internet rule, which was gutted by a federal court earlier this year. These were also all conditions that — before that rule was even put into place — Comcast agreed to with the FCC in order to push through the acquisition of NBC (a deal that landed one FCC Commissioner a high-paying job as a Comcast lobbyist only a few months later).

Additionally, these are conditions to which Comcast will no longer be beholden after 2018 when that agreement expires.

But even if Comcast truly believes in these things, why then does it still have a problem with the President’s suggestion — and that of countless consumer advocates — that the FCC reclassify broadband as a necessary piece of telecommunications infrastructure?

The first part of Cohen’s explanation is the already debunked claim that it would “harm future innovation and investment in broadband.”

But then he wades into murkier waters, saying that Title II reclassification is “not necessary to put in place strong and enforceable Open Internet protections” and that “Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act provides more than ample authority to impose those rules, as the DC Circuit made clear.”

Hold on a second while I try to wrap my head around this nonsense.

It was under Section 706 that the FCC tried to establish the “no blocking” and “no paid prioritization” rules — the very rules that the DC Circuit gutted… in the very ruling PDF] that Cohen links to in his post.

What the court said in that ruling was that Section 706 grants the FCC “affirmative authority to enact measures encouraging the deployment of broadband infrastructure” and “empower[s] it to promulgate rules governing broadband providers’ treatment of Internet traffic.”

But the court specifically said that Section 706 may not be used to “impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates,” and since the FCC had previously chosen to classify broadband as something other than a Title II service, “the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such.”

And, added the court for good measure, “Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order.”

So in fact, the court specifically blocks the FCC from using Section 706 to prevent rules against prioritization and blocking.

But Cohen claims this isn’t “game playing or sophistry” on Comcast’s part. He should probably look up what both of those terms mean, because that’s exactly what it looks like when you tell people that the law gives them the authority that a federal appeals court explicitly says it does not.

“Being for net neutrality and against Title II is completely consistent,” writes Cohen. “People can be for net neutrality and against Title II – that simply represents agreement on the why, but not the how.”

But the “how” is the most important thing. If cable companies and other ISPs had no intention to block content or charge for priority access, they wouldn’t be spending millions to put up this anti-neutrality fight.

Rather, folks like Cohen would rather you believe that an industry — the lowest rated of all consumer-facing industries, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index — known for monopolistic business practices would best be left to monitor itself. Because without reclassification to Title II, there is no other way to require ISPs to remain neutral.

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