Here’s What Comcast, Verizon, Netflix, And Everyone Else Has To Say About Net Neutrality

Image courtesy of Steve

The initial comment deadline in the FCC’s proceeding to kill off the 2015 Open Internet Rule — that’s net neutrality, to most of us — has now come and gone. More than 8.9 million comments have already come in since May, blowing away the 4 million comment record set by the last time net neutrality came before the Commission in 2014.

Parsing them all out will take some time and some deep-diving data mining and analysis that someone, no doubt, is hard at work doing right now; it will be a while before we know how many comments were for, how many against, and how many were just astroturfing bots muddying the waters.

But when it comes to public comments, not all voices are equal. The filings from major corporations and interest groups generally carry more weight than the filings from individuals. So what are the biggest voices saying?

If you read any of the comments in 2014, these battle lines will seem incredibly familiar. And while the specifics of the rhetoric have shifted a bit, the overall gist breaks down exactly the same.

We Hate The Open Internet Rule And Want To Kill It

Image courtesy of Silver Machine

The list of folks who want to reverse the 2015 rule largely and unsurprisingly consists of the businesses who were opposed to implementing it in the first place, and who can keep more revenue streams available if they are allowed to charge companies (like Netflix) and consumers (like you) more for access to each other.

All of the ISPs and the trade groups that represent them claim to love the open internet, and profess to be disinterested in blocking or throttling any lawful content. However, all of them are remarkably mum on paid prioritization, failing to make any claims that they are disinterested in charging for “fast lanes” or engaging in any similar shenanigans.

AT&T

AT&T’s filing weighs in at a hefty 114 pages, plus a supplemental analysis. All of these pages are spent arguing that AT&T really truly loves net neutrality but unfortunately one, Title II classification is useless, two, Title II classification is bad, and three, Title II regulation is unlawful anyway.

The company stresses this separation repeatedly, by calling the 2010 rule (that was thrown out in court) the “Open Internet Order” but referring to the Open Internet Order of 2015 as “the Title II Order,” which is not its name.

“The open internet has flourished in spite of — indeed, because of — the absence of any broadband regulation for most of the intervening two decades and the absence of Title II regulation for all but the past two years,” AT&T goes on.

Before 2015, AT&T says, “That ecosystem exhibited no systemic market failure requiring a prescriptive regulatory response.” Nor, AT&T claims, were there any individual instances of ISP conduct that “could even theoretically justify more than a basic no-blocking/no-throttling rule.”

The TL;DR: “Title II is thus a sledgehammer aimed at a friendly gnat that does not yet exist.”

Charter

Charter insists that it is fully devoted to an open internet, with no desire to do anything to impede consumers.

“Our customers value our broadband service precisely because they can use it in any way they choose, including to access data-intensive apps such as streaming video and gaming,” Charter writes.

“And that is why we don’t impose data caps, don’t engage in usage-based billing, and don’t charge our customers modem rental fees under our new service packages,” Charter continues, without mentioning that it’s banned from putting in data caps or implementing usage-based pricing until 2023 as a condition of being permitted to buy Time Warner Cable.

Title II creates an unclear regulatory burden and stifles innovation by generating uncertainty, Charter continues, before making it explicit that they want to be regulated as little as possible, saying, “Reclassification [back to Title I] would help preserve a deregulatory environment going forward.”

The TL;DR: “Because market forces continue to necessitate that Charter and other service providers not block, throttle, or engage in harmful paid prioritization of content, and that they remain open about their traffic management practices, the Commission need not sacrifice innovation and investment to maintain these important consumer protections.”

Comcast

Comcast, too, has quite a lot to say in its 161-page filing. Lilke the other major ISPs, it argues that the FCC needs to go back to calling broadband an Title I internet service, and not a Title II common carrier.

Comcast also spends a significant amount of time trying to reassert that Title II classification and the Open Internet Order have hurt investment, saying that, “This decline in the pace of broadband investment already has had a negative impact on broadband networks in this country.”

“The effect of Title II on innovation has been just as pronounced,” Comcast continues. “One need look no further than the investigations conducted by prior Commission leadership into nascene streaming services like T-Mobile’s BingeOn, Verizon’s FreeBee, and AT&T’s Sponsored Data … to appreciate the serious chilling effect on innovation” the FCC’s Open Internet Order has had on corporations.

“This uncertainty, coupled with the risk of nine-figure sanctions for inaccurate guesswork, has had a significant negative impact on product development, deployment, and time to market,” says Comcast, which has nonetheless launched mobile phone and streaming bundle plans this year.

The TL;DR: “Comcast supports the Commision’s effort to take a fresh look at how best to maintain sensible open internet protections, while eliminating the investment-stifling and innovation-chilling overhang that Title II has brought to the Internet ecosystem.

Verizon

Verizon’s 2011 lawsuit against the 2010 Open Internet Rule is, of course, what eventually led to the creation of the 2015 Open Internet Rule. Verizon filed another hundred-page doorstopper in exactly the same vein as the other big ISPs.

“We are committed to an open internet,” Verizon writes. “Consumers should be able to access the legal content of their choice when and how they want.”

But “Title II, as imposed by the FCC’s 2015 Order, is the wrong answer,” Verizon adds. “Title II, with its rate regulation, mandatory fees, and required regulatory approval to either offering or discontinuing services, was tailored to address an era marked by a government-sponsored monopoly for the provision of simple and standardized voice transmission services. That’s a far cry from the diverse and competitive broadband world of today.”

Verizon does address paid prioritization, briefly, to say, “We support rules that prevent providers from charging content suppliers a fee to deliver their internet traffic faster than the internet trafafic of others where the result is harm to competition or consumers” (emphasis ours).

The TL;DR: “Net neutrality has been a buzzword that’s been twisted to too many ends. It’s time to move past all that. Our focus should be on building and deploying the next generation of broadband.”

USTelecom

USTelecom is a trade group that represents basically all the landline companies that are now also ISPs, including AT&T, Verizon, Frontier, and CenturyLink. It also was one of the major drivers in the lawsuit against the 2015 Open Internet Rule (which it lost).

In its filing, USTelecom argues that the U.S. is already so great that net neutrality will only ruin everything.

“The U.S. leads the world in internet use and growth” as well as “in broadband services and technologies,” USTelecom writes. Like the companies it represents, it wants to make sure businesses keep making money, and so it relies on two major sets of metrics: the number of connections in the U.S., and the amount of money industry spends on making them.

Also, USTelecom concludes, the FCC was wrong in the first place in 2015, and evidence submitted to the record during the last rulemaking process would have shown that if the Commission had looked.

The TL;DR: “There are no legal impediments to the Commission taking the pro-consumer, pro-investment step of restoring the bi-partisan light-handed Title I approach to broadband services that produced so much success over the last decades.”

We Like The Open Internet Rule; Please Leave It Alone

Image courtesy of * tathei *

Meanwhile, two basic overall groups comprise the “we just had this fight in 2014-2015, please leave well enough alone already” side. On the one hand you have businesses that live on and need the internet, and on the other, public, digital, and/or civil rights advocates. The comments from these groups, too, are predictable and familiar.

Several lawmakers and state and local politicians have also come down in favor of retaining the existing 2015 rule, including mayors from 62 major cities (including San Francisco, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Chicago, and more) the New York Attorney General,and Senators Al Franken and Ed Markey.

Netflix

Netflix was an ardent supporter of the 2015 Open Internet Rule at the time. In this second round, the company at first backed off saying others could lead, but eventually jumped back in.

“Failing to protect the internet’s openness is the equivalent of shutting down Main Street, Wall Street, and the public square, all rolled into one,” Netflix writes.

“When Netflix was starting out, an open internet enabled us to offer consumers an innovative option for watching movies and TV shows,” the company writes.

Now, Netflix is a global powerhouse, it acknowledges, “But broadband internet acces providers can use (and have used) gatekeeper power to restrict consumers’ ability to access the content they choose, especially from growing and competitive firms.”

In short, the company says it wants the 2015 rule to stay exactly as-is, for its sake and the sake of companies that could come after.

The TL;DR: “Netflix believes that achieving strong net neutrality is critical to maintaining a vibrant, open internet to promote free expression, a diversity of content, and continued innovation. Unfortunately, the course of action proposed in the NPRM is likely to have the opposite effect.”

Consumers Union

Our colleagues down the hall at Consumers Union — the policy and mobilization arm of Consumerist’s parent company, Consumer Reports — urged the FCC to leave the law the way it is… and not to be taken in by misleading arguments.

“Government ‘regulation of the internet’ and ‘utility-style regulation’ are mischaracterizations,” Consumers Union points out. “The net neutrality rules contained within the [2015] Order do not regulate the internet, but rather those ISPs that charge consumers and businesses money to provide access to the internet.”

“Similarly,” CU goes on, “it is unclear how prohibiting an ISP from blocking or throttling lawful internet content that consumers want represents government control of the internet, or the content contained in it.”

CU also addresses the claim that Title II has quashed investment, pointing out that the claim all relies on one questionable study. “Before making policy changes that could significantly impact the internet and consumers,” CU writes, “we hope the FCC would obtain new, unbiased research from multiple sources.”

The TL;DR: “Although Consumers Union had hoped the debate was, at long last, resolved last year with the court’s decision to uphold the FCC’s net neutrality rules — and the Title II reclassification underlying them — the Commission is again revisiting old arguments and forming new ones in an apparent effort to dismantle these pro-consumer rules. Nothing in the NPRM persuasively demonstrates that the five net neutrality rules in the 2015 Open Internet Order should be repealed, or that broadband service was inappropriately reclassified.”

Internet Association

Most companies didn’t file individual comments; rather, their trade group did. The Internet Association represents all the big internet businesses you can think of, including Airbnb, Amazon, Etsy, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Lyft, Microsoft, Netflix, PayPal, Pinterest, Reddit, Twitter, Uber, and a whole bunch of others.

“The evidence indicates that the 2015 rules have secured the outcomes predicted in the Commission’s 2015 Order — a growing cloud economy that has fostered profitable investments in broadband networks and faster speeds for broadband users, all to the benefit of American businesses and consumers,” the IA writes.

The organization also says its research shows that investment has not been stifled or stalled — because “investment” isn’t only the purview of broadband builders, but also of all the companies that exist because they provide goods or services, and reach customers, through the internet (edge providers).

Internet based companies are “particularly susceptible to ISPs’ gatekeeper power because consumers may not realize that their ISP is throttling or otherwise discriminating against and edge provider, the IA points out — and competition still sucks.

“Most consumers have no way of knowing whether slow speeds … are caused by their ISP or the edge provider, and no way of knowing that they would fare any better with a different ISP (if they have access to any).”

The TL;DR: “Undoing the Commission’s 2015 Order, and even continuing to discuss reopening the settled open internet debate, will create significant uncertainty in the market and upset the careful balance that has led to the current virtuous circle of innovation in the broadband ecosystem. Weakening existing net neutrality rules or denying them a solid legal foundation will harm consumers and innovators alike.”

ACLU

The ACLU notes that absent law, ISPs can run roughshod over consumers because the market is a whole lot less than competitive. “In order to reach any endpoint on the internet,” the ACLU writes, “the customer needs to go through an ISP’s network.”

But, “the ISP market was born and remains anchored on top of existing common carrier networks subsidized and provided by government,” the organization continues. “The majority of internet users now face a distorted and near-monopolistic market where a single ISP can dictate terms of service and where users have no real choice but to accept those terms or go without access to the internet.”

And that’s not a new thing. “There has been no material change of circumstance since the adoption of the Order that would justify a complete reversal of agency policy,” the ACLU notes. “Indeed, even the ISPs who would benefit from the current rullback proposal have continued on a streak of significant economic success.”

The TL;DR: “No one’s interests are served by rolling back the Open Internet Order of 2015 — except, that is, for the economic interests of the large ISPs. Yet the cost of reversing field would be enormous to millions of internet users — both consumers and the online providers of content and services.”