From Applause To Lawsuits And Legislation: What Key Players Are Saying About Net Neutrality

Image courtesy of Verizon

Over the summer, we rounded up what all the key players in broadband and online were saying about the potential for the FCC to write a clear net neutrality rule. Earlier today, the FCC actually went and made that rule; here’s what everyone has to say about it now.

Although AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon all hint once again at lawsuits, it will be some time before they can actually file any. The rule first has to be made official with publication in the Federal Register, and then it will take even longer for it to go into effect to be challenged.

AT&T

AT&T started trying out legal frameworks for objecting to the vote weeks before it became a reality, so today the company took a more personal and emotional tactics with a first-person blog post from SEVP of external and legislative affairs Jim Cicconi.

Cicconi chides the FCC for actually taking a stand and regulating, saying:

Every chairman in my memory, including the current one, has faced political stampedes of one sort or another. Yet the agency has always tried to find a middle ground and a consensus win. They’ve understood that a win, unlike a fight, is the product of reaching out to both sides, and working in a bipartisan way to find a solution. A win is the product of compromise, thoughtful policy, and a genuine desire to find the answer to a complex set of issues.

We had such a situation – and a bipartisan win – in the 2010 net neutrality rule. Unfortunately, this was undone by a court decision, facing us with the same situation a second time. Today, an Administration and an FCC that appeared headed toward another bipartisan win on net neutrality were driven instead to a partisan fight. The 3-2 FCC vote, along party lines, for sweeping new regulation of the Internet, is a rejection of the compromise win and an embrace, however reluctant, of the political fight. It’s unfortunate that this single issue, more than any other, has over the course of ten years caused a divisive spirit to spread to an agency that has long sought unanimity on significant long term issues, and generally found it. A 5-0 decision doesn’t leave a lot of room for either side to continue the argument, while a 3-2 decision, particularly on issues of such broad scope, is an invitation to revisiting the decision, over and over and over.

“Instead of a clear set of rules moving forward, with a broad set of agreement behind them, we once again face the uncertainty of litigation,” Cicconi continues. This is no doubt true, as AT&T is one of the companies that plans to litigate.

Cicconi concludes, “For our part, we will continue to seek a consensus solution, and hopefully bipartisan legislation, even if we are the last voice seeking agreement rather than division. And we will hope that other voices of reason will emerge, voices who recognize that animosity, exaggeration, demonization and fear-mongering are not a basis on which to make wise national policies.”

Comcast

Comcast continues to try to have it both ways, explaining that they love net neutrality but that all these pesky rules do is get in the way:

We know that our business has grown and thrived because consumers want access to everything that the Internet makes possible, and we want to meet that demand. This is why we have no issue with the principles of transparency and the no blocking, no throttling, and no fast lanes rules incorporated in today’s FCC Order. But we remain deeply concerned that implementing those principles through Title II will do more harm to the vibrant Internet ecosystem than good.

While we don’t agree that using Title II is necessary, we are encouraged that the Commission has apparently forborne from numerous statutory provisions and cumbersome regulations, which will alleviate some of the most troubling aspects of using Title II. But we have not yet read the Order as adopted by the Commission, and we are concerned with what some have reported as incomplete legal forbearance in important areas. So we will need to await release of the Order so we – and everyone else – can review completely all of the actions taken through today’s important vote. Specifically, after seeing the Order, we’ll have to engage in additional internal scrutiny on what our investment plans with respect to broadband will be going forward.

After today, the only “certainty” in the Open Internet space is that we all face inevitable litigation and years of regulatory uncertainty challenging an Order that puts in place rules that most of us agree with. We believe that the best way to avoid this would be for Congress to act. We are confident this can be done in a bi-partisan manner with a consensus approach that accomplishes the common goals of stakeholders on all sides of the open Internet debate without the unnecessary focus on legal jurisdiction and the unnecessary regulatory overhang from 80 year-old language and provisions that were never intended to be applied to the Internet.

Comptel

Comptel is a trade organization representing many small and medium broadband ISPs, including retail providers as well as intermediary carriers like Level 3.

Comptel CEO Chip Pickering said in a statement:

The Commission’s historic decision today to promote and protect an open Internet is vital to consumers and companies of all sizes – particularly small businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurs – that depend on the Internet to communicate, conduct business and serve their customers. Today’s action is a defeat for those companies that want to exert gatekeeper control over the Internet and a clear victory for individual choice, free expression, competition and the Internet-driven free market economy.

COMPTEL commends the Commission for ensuring an open Internet by prohibiting blocking, throttling, paid prioritization and unreasonable discrimination that would prohibit consumers from obtaining the online content, applications and services of their choice. Our broad membership – which includes top Internet companies, over-the-top providers, Internet backbone operators, wireless and enterprise service providers – praise the Commission for its strong action and clear commitment to the innovation, investment and pro-growth policy for an open Internet.

We are pleased that the Commission followed the evidence in the record and determined that ISPs have threatened and can continue to threaten the open Internet at the interconnection points they control. By providing a complaint process, the Commission can now ensure that interconnection is not used to evade the open Internet protections, and it will be able to address cases of abuse that are harming or threaten to harm ISPs’ customers and the virtuous circle of innovation and investment.

Consumers Union

Our colleagues at Consumers Union (the advocacy arm of Consumerist’s parent company, Consumer Reports) have been advocating for the FCC to reclassify ISPs as common carriers since the 2014 court decision, and so were in favor of today’s vote.

Ellen Bloom, senior director of federal policy for Consumers Union, said in a statement:

“It would be hard to overstate how big of a deal this is for consumers and the future of the Internet. It’s a huge win after years of fierce debates and massive opposition from the biggest providers of Internet service.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. We’re into the woods, really. We expect opponents to look for every angle they can to stop these rules, whether in court or in Congress. It should be obvious, with the millions of people who spoke out in favor of these rules, that the battle should end now. We’re going to keep the pressure on to preserve these consumer protections.”

Bloom was also glad to see the FCC extend the rules to cover wireless services, saying, “As more people rely on mobile devices to access the Internet, extending these rules to wireless is absolutely critical.”

Consumers Union also applauded the FCC’s move to allow municipalities to expand broadband access.

Free Press

Free Press, like Consumers Union, has been advocating for the FCC to reclassify broadband services ever since the old rule got thrown out in Jnuary, 2014. In his statement, Free Press CEO Craig Aaron called the vote a “historic win” for consumers and continued:

“A diverse coalition of activists, artists, musicians, social justice organizers, faith leaders, legal scholars, free speech advocates and Internet startups pushed back daily against phone and cable lobby efforts to undermine the open Internet. We built the detailed case for Title II, deluged the FCC’s website, jammed switchboards on Capitol Hill, and forged new alliances that are transforming how telecom and technology policy is made.

“The engaged Internet community is now a political force to be reckoned with. It’s one that will no longer sit quietly by as politicians and lobbyists attempt to take away our rights to connect and communicate. Today’s win is momentous for us, but we’ve only scratched the surface of what a well-organized Internet constituency can accomplish.

“There’s no doubt that the cable and telecom monopolies and their hired guns will ramp up their lies and lobbying in an attempt to take this victory away from Internet users. But we’re ready to fight back to defend this historic win. We need an open, fast, affordable and secure Internet for everyone. Today’s vote moves us one step closer to that reality.”

NCTA

The NCTA is the major trade and lobbying group that represents the cable industry, most notably including Comcast and Time Warner Cable (among many others). The head of the NCTA — Michael Powell, former FCC chairman — has spoken vehemently against reclassification several times throughout the past year. In a statement, Powell said:

“Today, the FCC took one of the most regulatory steps in its history. It began regulating the Internet, abruptly abandoning a bipartisan national commitment to limited government involvement that has reigned for decades.

“This extraordinary action has been justified by the desire to preserve net neutrality, but the FCC Order goes well beyond that reasonable objective. The FCC has taken the overwhelming support for an open Internet and pried open the door to heavy-handed government regulation in a space celebrated for its free enterprise. The Commission has breathed new life into the decayed telephone regulatory model and applied it to the most dynamic, free-wheeling and innovative platform in history.

“Since the dawn of broadband Internet service, consumers have enjoyed a fully open Internet. Our industry has always been committed to providing that experience to our customers. The day after this Order becomes law, consumers will see nothing different in their experience. However, they surely will bear the burden of new taxes and increased costs, and they will likely wait longer for faster and more innovative networks since investment will slow in the face of bureaucratic oversight.”

Powell also called for Congress to intervene and move forward with their own net neutrality legislation, rather than allowing the FCC to regulate.

Netflix

Netflix has spent much of the last year right at the center of the net neutrality argument. The FCC didn’t say much today one way or the other specifically about peering agreements, which have been the streaming video giant’s main source of conflict with carriers. However, Netflix in their statement still called it a win for consumers:

“The net neutrality debate is about who picks winners and losers online: Internet service providers or consumers. Today, the FCC settled it: Consumers win.

“Today’s order is a meaningful step towards ensuring ISPs cannot shift bad conduct upstream to where they interconnect with content providers like Netflix. Net neutrality rules are only as strong as their weakest link, and it’s incumbent on the FCC to ensure these interconnection points aren’t used to end-run the principles of an open Internet.

“Given the lack of competition among broadband providers, today’s other FCC decision preventing regulations that thwart local investment in new broadband infrastructure also is an important step toward ensuring greater consumer choice. These actions kick off a new era that puts the consumer, not litigious corporate giants, at the center of competition policy.”

Public Knowledge

Public Knowledge has, like Free Press and Consumers Union, been heavily advocating for the Title II approach for many months. In the organization’s statement, SVP Michael Weinberg said:

“After an unprecedented outpouring of public support, today the FCC voted to enact the strongest net neutrality rules in history. By embracing its Title II authority and creating clear, bright-line rules against blocking and discrimination, Chairman Wheeler and the FCC have earned a reputation as defenders of an Open Internet.

“This day would not have happened without the support of the millions of Americans who commented with the FCC, called Congress, and wrote to the White House. This bipartisan wave of Open Internet supporters from across the country came together to make it clear to their government that it had a crucial role in protecting an Open Internet.

“After months and years of hard work and advocacy, today is a day to celebrate. Thank you, FCC, for standing up for consumers to achieve this historic victory for net neutrality. Your landmark work will be remembered by the American people.”

The group is also throwing a party tonight — or two parties, really, one on each coast — in celebration.

Verizon

Last but not least, we have Verizon, who do admittedly get all of the marks for creativity if not for substance.

The company, which filed the lawsuit that led to the FCC’s lenient old rules being thrown out and today’s stringent new ones being needed to replace them, titled their blog post, “FCC’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ Move Imposes 1930s Rules on the Internet” and proceeded to write it entirely in Morse code (pictured at the top of this post).

For the translated version (PDF), Verizon dated the release “February 26, 1934” and abused typefaces to make it look as though their statement had come from a particularly ill-maintained and badly made typewriter. It reads:

“Today’s decision by the FCC to encumber broadband internet services with badly antiquated regulations is a radical step that presages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators and investors. Over the past two decades a bipartisan, light-touch policy approach unleashed unprecedented investment and enabled the broadband internet age consumers now enjoy.

The FCC today chose to change the way the commercial internet has operated since its creation. Changing a platform that has been so successful should be done, if at all, only after careful policy analysis, full transparency, and by the legislature, which is constitutionally charged with determining policy. As a result, it is likely that history will judge today’s actions as misguided.

“The FCC’s move is especially regrettable because it is wholly unnecessary,” continued the company that, once again, sued to have the old rules overturned and created the vacuum for the new ones. “The FCC had targeted tools available to preserve an open internet, but instead chose to use this order as an excuse to adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana that will have unintended negative consequences for consumers and various parts of the internet ecosystem for years to come.”

And if you’re still wondering what this is all about…

Our colleagues up in the frozen north (of Yonkers, New York) at Consumer Reports have put together a quick and easy video to explain net neutrality and why today’s vote was awesome for consumers.