PublishedSeptember 28, 2009

Carriers Try to Confuse Net Neutrality Issue

Since the FCC chairman’s announcement last week that he would work to enforce network neutrality principles, some large carriers initially questioned the need for regulatory action and are now trying tactics to distract from the real debate.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association applauded Julius Genachowski’s announcement last week that he wanted the FCC to pass a rule to bar discrimination against Internet traffic based on source or content and a rule that would require Internet Service Providers disclose their network management practices. But CCIA sees AT&T’s letter to the FCC claiming a Google Voice application is blocking some calls as a weak attempt to sidetrack net neutrality.

The following statement can be attributed to CCIA’s President and CEO Ed Black:

“The Internet is a vital and growing part of our economy and increasingly important to many aspects of our lives.  It is too important to allow a few powerful companies with the power to regulate its availability to have the unfettered ability to limit, extort, or distort our access to it and our ability to use it to go where we want on the Web.  The Internet has historically been content neutral and that’s a fundamental reason it has become a marvelous tool for communications, innovation, and economic growth.

“If there was sufficient competition to ensure that unsavory or excessively greedy practices could be objected to by a customer/consumer dropping service and finding a competitor willing to be responsive to their needs, most proponents of net neutrality would not be pressing for formal net neutrality rules.  We would prefer that a dynamic market place keep abusive practices in check.   But that type of market does not exist for ISPs.  Net Neutrality is all about compensating for that lack of competition.  In spite of efforts to throw around misleading statistics, meaningful ISP competition does not exist.

“And that is why AT&T’s complaint against a simple yet elegant software application is so absurd.  There could easily be thousands of similar software applications created by any number of players to compete with Google Voice if its users didn’t like the way it was operated.  There would be no lock in, no term contract, no wires, cable or fiber to replace, no reliance on particular hardware.  The market place for applications is exploding and barriers to entry are virtually nonexistent, unless claims like the one just made to the FCC are taken seriously and used to block a vibrant competitor. The attempt to confuse the issues is an understandable tactic by an industry sector threatened by new technology and business models, but we are confident the FCC and other policy makers will keep focused on the central issues surrounding access to an open Internet and net neutrality.

“To its credit this administration recognizes what is really at stake here and has put net neutrality front and center in the national debate as the innovation and economic issue that it is. AT&T’s pointing to a voice application and accusing it of blocking calls is a whining, desperate attempt to distract FCC enforcement of the standard, neutral Internet access that American consumers and businesses rely on.

“The only part of the letter that makes any sense is to point out that the legacy intercarrier compensation and access charge schemes are in need of overhaul, but that is not the fault of any particular application or content provider. It also is not really an issue in the net neutrality debate.  Application creators such as Google own no networks and are not capable of blocking or slowing Internet traffic.

“In addition to the lack of competition among ISPs, it is important to recognize the other competition issues at stake as well. Other industrialized countries have net neutrality or its equivalent. We rightly compete with them to ensure our citizens have equal access to high speed Internet access. It is important to the competitiveness of our students and small businesses to ensure they have similar access to content and applications that those in other countries have.”


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