NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, July 13th, 2017

NPI to FCC’s Ajit Pai: Broadband must remain classified as a telecommunications service

Editor’s Note: The fol­low­ing are the com­ments sub­mit­ted by the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute to the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion in sup­port of a free and open Inter­net, oppos­ing Repub­li­can Ajit Pai’s pro­pos­al to do away with the rules adopt­ed in 2015 to require broad­band providers to adhere to net neutrality.


Title 47 of the Code of the Unit­ed States states that it shall be the pol­i­cy of this coun­try to “make avail­able so far as pos­si­ble, to all the peo­ple of the Unit­ed States, with­out dis­crim­i­na­tion on the basis of race, col­or, reli­gion, nation­al ori­gin, or sex, rapid, effi­cient, Nation­wide, and world-wide wire and radio com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices with ade­quate facil­i­ties at rea­son­able charges.”

At the time the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion was cre­at­ed in 1934, the dom­i­nant elec­tron­ic medi­um was radio. Tele­vi­sion was in its infan­cy and pack­et switch­ing — the tech­nol­o­gy under­pin­ning the Inter­net — had not yet been invent­ed. Much has changed since the FCC was cre­at­ed and charged with ensur­ing that inter­state com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices were reg­u­lat­ed in the pub­lic interest.

But one thing has not changed: the need for effec­tive rules that pro­hib­it providers of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices from engag­ing in dis­crim­i­na­to­ry practices.

Tech­nol­o­gy has advanced by leaps and bounds since the 1930s. Today, it is pos­si­ble to work remote­ly, go shop­ping, read a book, watch a show, meet vir­tu­al­ly with some­one halfway around the world, or sim­ply exe­cute a search for infor­ma­tion thanks to the tech­nolo­gies that we know today as the Inter­net — the largest and most impor­tant com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vice in the his­to­ry of the world.

Key to the Inter­net’s suc­cess as a free and open medi­um has been the prin­ci­ple that all traf­fic should be treat­ed equal­ly, with no dis­crim­i­na­tion permitted.

This prin­ci­ple, defined as net neu­tral­i­ty by Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty’s Tim Wu, must be enforced if the Inter­net is to have a bright future, not mere­ly paid lip service.

Two years ago, the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion final­ly rec­og­nized that broad­band is a com­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vice, and accord­ing­ly clas­si­fied it as such. By adopt­ing Order 15–24 (In the Mat­ter of Pro­tect­ing and Pro­mot­ing the Open Inter­net), the FCC ful­filled its respon­si­bil­i­ty to estab­lish effec­tive rules that pro­hib­it providers of com­mu­ni­ca­tion ser­vices from engag­ing in dis­crim­i­na­to­ry practices.

We were among the mil­lions of per­sons and orga­ni­za­tions who lob­bied the FCC in sup­port of the adop­tion of the Open Inter­net Order. The Order has served our coun­try well since it went into effect two years ago, but Com­mis­sion­er Pai is now propos­ing to abol­ish it and go back to the days when net neu­tral­i­ty was nei­ther prop­er­ly cod­i­fied nor effec­tive­ly enforced. This is unac­cept­able. We write to emphat­i­cal­ly urge that this destruc­tive pro­pos­al be discarded.

Con­trary to what Com­mis­sion­er Pai has said in his many wrong­head­ed state­ments,  broad­band (includ­ing mobile broad­band) is a util­i­ty. It is basic infra­struc­ture, nec­es­sary for access to the Inter­net. It is entire­ly appro­pri­ate for broad­band to be clas­si­fied as a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vice under Title II.

Broad­band today is no less essen­tial than plain old tele­phone ser­vice or elec­tri­cal pow­er are. In fact, many Amer­i­cans are now con­nect­ed to the pub­lic switched tele­phone net­work via their broad­band Inter­net con­nec­tion using a mature group of tech­nolo­gies known as VOIP (Voice Over Inter­net Protocol).

The objec­tion­able tar­di­ness that pre­ced­ed the FCC’s recog­ni­tion of this real­i­ty with Order 15–24 is not a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for turn­ing back the clock now.

Broad­band is pre­cise­ly the kind of indis­pens­able com­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vice that Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt want­ed to wise­ly reg­u­late when he pro­posed the cre­ation of the FCC in the win­ter of 1934.

In a mes­sage to Con­gress dat­ed Feb­ru­ary 26th, 1934, Roo­sevelt wrote:

I rec­om­mend that the Con­gress cre­ate a new agency to be known as the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, such agency to be vest­ed with the author­i­ty now lying in the Fed­er­al Radio Com­mis­sion and with such author­i­ty over com­mu­ni­ca­tions as now lies with the Inter­state Com­merce Com­mis­sion — the ser­vices affect­ed to be all of those which rely on wires, cables, or radio as a medi­um of transmission.

In the open­ing sen­tence of that same mes­sage, Pres­i­dent Roo­sevelt remarked that he had long felt the fed­er­al gov­ern­men­t’s rela­tion­ship with cer­tain ser­vices known as util­i­ties ought to be divid­ed into three fields, with two being trans­porta­tion and pow­er, and the third com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Roo­sevelt’s pur­pose in call­ing for the cre­ation of the Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion was to spur Con­gress to estab­lish an agency with “broad author­i­ty” over the field of communications.

And Con­gress did just that before the year was out.

The FCC has an oblig­a­tion to act in the pub­lic inter­est and to use its broad author­i­ty to ensure com­pa­nies pro­vid­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vices don’t dis­crim­i­nate. This is the pur­pose of Order 15–24, which was upheld as law­ful by the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia Cir­cuit after being chal­lenged by AT&T.

It is well known and under­stood that the Inter­net has rev­o­lu­tion­ized the way we con­duct busi­ness. It is also a well known fact that com­pa­nies such as Net­flix, Ama­zon, Google, and Face­book owe their exis­tence to the Internet.

So do we. Unlike the afore­men­tioned com­pa­nies, though, we aren’t a for-prof­it ven­ture. Rather, we are a small non­prof­it orga­nized for social wel­fare pur­pos­es. We, the staff and board of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute (NPI), seek to raise Amer­i­ca’s qual­i­ty of life through insight­ful research and imag­i­na­tive advocacy.

Before NPI exist­ed phys­i­cal­ly – before it exist­ed legal­ly – it exist­ed vir­tu­al­ly, as an idea on the World Wide Web. That idea – to build a social­ly and envi­ron­men­tal­ly respon­si­ble think tank with the soul of a tech start­up – could not have tak­en root or been embraced by a larg­er group of peo­ple with­out the Internet.

At NPI, we believe that progress requires a will­ing­ness to look at the big pic­ture, think prag­mat­i­cal­ly, and act bold­ly. A major focus of our research is gaug­ing pub­lic sup­port for pol­i­cy direc­tions that would lead to greater free­dom and broad pros­per­i­ty, but which have not yet tak­en root in the pub­lic consciousness.

Wor­thy ideas can­not enter the pub­lic dis­course or become pub­lic pol­i­cy if nobody knows about them. That is why, in addi­tion to car­ry­ing out research, we pub­lish two wide­ly read blogs (the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate and In Brief) and main­tain a news and infor­ma­tion hub (Pacif­ic NW Por­tal) that aggre­gates high qual­i­ty con­tent from oth­er online pub­li­ca­tions as well as mass media with an online presence.

Pri­or to the Inter­net era, when non­prof­its want­ed to get the word out about their work, they had to go through gate­keep­ers to reach a mass audi­ence. Today, it’s pos­si­ble for a non­prof­it like NPI to reach large num­bers of peo­ple direct­ly with­out hav­ing to buy adver­tis­ing from — or suc­ceed in get­ting the atten­tion of — the large cor­po­ra­tions that own most news­pa­pers, tele­vi­sion net­works, and radio stations.

We do not take this free­dom for grant­ed. The Inter­net is now threat­ened by the same forces respon­si­ble for unchecked media con­sol­i­da­tion. Com­pa­nies like Com­cast, Ver­i­zon, and AT&T are rac­ing to accu­mu­late pow­er and influ­ence. These com­pa­nies, which have tra­di­tion­al­ly been in the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing phone ser­vice and broad­band ser­vice, now seek con­trol over our nation’s mass media.

Dis­tress­ing­ly, they’re get­ting it. Com­cast has been allowed to acquire NBC Uni­ver­sal, after its ear­li­er attempt to buy Dis­ney was rebuffed. Ver­i­zon has snapped up AOL and Yahoo. And AT&T is cur­rent­ly attempt­ing to buy Time Warn­er. All three of these mega­cor­po­ra­tions are Inter­net ser­vice providers with enor­mous mar­ket share.

We have no doubt that if these behe­moths were giv­en free rein to cre­ate a fast lane to pri­or­i­tize their own con­tent and charge fees for access to that fast lane, they would. Order 15–24 present­ly bars them from engag­ing in such schemes.

The over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of com­ments sub­mit­ted to the FCC in advance of the vote adopt­ing Order 15–24 expressed strong sup­port for effec­tive reg­u­la­tions clas­si­fy­ing broad­band as a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions ser­vice and requir­ing broad­band providers to adhere to the prin­ci­ples of net neutrality.

That same sen­ti­ment can be found in the vast major­i­ty of com­ments sub­mit­ted to date, which stren­u­ous­ly oppose Com­mis­sion­er Pai’s dam­ag­ing proposal.

The oppo­si­tion includes many Inter­net ser­vice providers. Two weeks ago, you received a let­ter from thir­ty com­pa­nies that sell broad­band to com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try urg­ing you to keep the cur­rent rules in place. The com­pa­nies not­ed that the rules had not adverse­ly affect­ed their busi­ness at all. In their words:

We have encoun­tered no new addi­tion­al bar­ri­ers to invest­ment or deploy­ment as a result of the 2015 deci­sion to reclas­si­fy broad­band as a telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions  ser­vice and have long sup­port­ed net­work neu­tral­i­ty as a core prin­ci­ple for the deploy­ment of net­works for the Amer­i­can pub­lic to access the Internet.

The FCC must lis­ten to the mul­ti­tude of diverse voic­es speak­ing out in defense of a free and open Inter­net, and aban­don its pro­posed rulemaking.


Rick Heg­dahl
North­west Pro­gres­sive Institute
Andrew Vil­leneuve
Founder and Exec­u­tive Director
North­west Pro­gres­sive Institute

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