PublishedOctober 22, 2010

Tech Policy Lobbyists Tell Executives FCC Must Act Now … Or Face Irrelevancy

Tech policy lobbyists took the net neutrality debate to more neutral territory Thursday as they explained the issue and why it matters to business executives at a panel discussion in Tysons Corner.

Lisa Youngers of XO Communications gave a brief summary of the FCC initiatives in play from the National Broadband Plan to net neutrality rules to Title II classification of broadband telecommunications.

CCIA Vice President Cathy Sloan, a panelist at the Telecomhub event, asked the group of about 100 executives from the DC metro area if anyone had the choice of more than one cable or more than one telecom broadband provider. All hands in the audience went down.

Sloan said the problem is that without competition, consumers have no real place to go if their Internet Access Provider (IAP) decides to charge them more than their neighbor for the same service or if the IAP arbitrarily cuts off or degrades their service. She said that with recent court decisions and without FCC action, it has no enforceable rules to protect customers.

Jonathan Banks of US telecom said its members are behaving fine without net neutrality rules.

Derek Turner of Free Press, however, said the reason is that the technology is just being developed so the companies proposing Internet traffic discrimination haven’t implemented it yet. The technology, deep packet inspection, is now ready and allows the IAPs to open Internet packets to see what is being delivered on their “pipes.”

Sloan said net neutrality rules provide a level playing field to ensure existing businesses and start ups have reliable access to the open Internet. She said without net neutrality rules, a start up offering a new Internet application would have to get permission from an IAP to make sure the innovation will work on their network. The new business could be told “no” if the ISP instead struck a deal with a competitor.

Both Sloan and Turner praised the FCC for offering well thought out ideas like the National Broadband Plan and net neutrality principles to ensure consumers, students, non-profits and small businesses will continue to have the Internet access they now enjoy.

They agreed Congress has a place to support net neutrality too, but in the meantime, the FCC must take action to fulfill its mandate to protect consumers. “The state of play now is the FCC has no enforceable rules” when it comes to neutral Internet access to apps and content, Sloan said.

“If the FCC does not act on its well-developed, well-reasoned proposals, it will descend into irrelevancy,” Turner said.

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