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An offer Democrats shouldn’t refuse

Internet Innovation Alliance honorary chairman Rick Boucher recommended a compromise between Congressional Democrats that favor the transparency and non-discrimination that net neutrality rules is supposed to provide and Congressional Republicans who see net neutrality rules as onerous and intrusive while hampering the level of investment ion broadband deployment.  Mr. Boucher would like net neutrality principles codified in federal statute in return for internet service providers being returned to their prior information services classification.  From a market reality perspective, Mr. Boucher’s offer in compromise makes sense.  You can read Mr. Boucher’s persuasive argument here.

I’ve argued before that Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and a host of other broadband access providers have gone or heading beyond their old classifications as broadband providers or even communications companies.  These companies sell ad space on their portals; provide news and information; collect data from their customers that may be used to enhance the quality of the ads consumers see or any other services the broadband entity provides.  Collecting and distributing information is an increasingly important part of their business model as they compete with Google, Facebook, and Netflix for consumer eyeballs.  Classifying them as information service providers is appropriate and would show that the Federal Communications Commission has some understanding of the information market that they are trying to regulate.

Of course I’d rather the rules not even exist thus eliminating the need for Congress to come up with another statute.  Market realities and the philosophy of openness that the internet has adhered to for a quarter of a century should be enough incentive for broadband providers not to discriminate against traffic from certain websites or block their subscribers access to websites of their choosing.  The internet has always been the geeks haven for information flow and its commercialization hasn’t changed that,  If anything, keeping the tap on information flow wide open only drives up the value of a provider’s network leaving the provider with the fun challenge of monetizing that flow.

Mr. Boucher’s offer is one that the Democrats shouldn’t refuse.

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Does the Republican Party want to turn ‪#‎netneutrality‬ into ‪#‎Benghazi‬?

Right now Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, is testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The Republicans have making an issue of President Obama’s supposed influence in the FCC’s rulemaking in the net neutrality space, arguing that until a number of meetings either with the President or White House staff, Mr. Wheeler was pursuing net neutrality rules based on section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 versus the common carrier rules from Title II of ythe Communications Act of 1934.

Section 706 authorizes the FCC to promote the deployment of advanced communications services with different regulatory schemes including price regulation. Title II, a section of the 1934 Act, allows the FCC to regulate rates, services, classifications, and practices of telecommunications companies. The FCC wants to reclassify broadband operators as telecommunications companies thus sending public policy in the telecom space back to the late 20th century when we sported Kangols and rocked to Dougie Fresh and Slick Rick.

Unfortunately for the American public, the issue of how much influence the White House had over the decision making process at the FCC is turning into another #Benghazi hearing.

The GOP inquiry into how much Mr. Obama was able to twist Mr. Wheeler’s arm and deviate from a section 706-based order to an order dripping with Title II ooze won’t amount to much of anything unless Congress decides to overhaul the disclosure procedure for all government agencies.

Jason Chaffetz, chairman of the oversight committee, echoed my sentiments during the hearing and hopefully Congress can write a rule that provides a 30-day comment period for draft rules before a final vote is taken. This would add credibility to a decisionmaking process where unelected bureaucrats are making policy impacting the decisionmaking process of entreprenuers.

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What would a mid-term election loss by Democrats mean for the Open Internet

Based on the latest prognostication of election poll watchers, House congressional initiatives to rein in the Federal Communications Commission’s attempts to further regulate broadband access may be in for a small boost.  That boost may be tempered, however, by presidential veto power.

A post in The Economist blog, Democracy in America, cites a number of polls giving the Republican Party a chance in this November’s mid-term elections to win the U.S. Senate while keeping the U.S. House of Representatives.  That may provide initiatives promoted by House Republicans Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Robert Latta of Ohio some additional ammunition in their attempts to prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband access providers as Title II common carriers.

Last July, Mrs. Blackburn secured an amendment to the fiscal year 2015 financial services appropriation bill designed to retard FCC attempts to preempt state laws that regulate municipal broadband.

Meanwhile, Mr. Latta introduced H.R. 4752, a bill that would limit the authority of the FCC over providers of broadband access.  Specifically, the bill would prevent the FCC from reclassifying broadband access providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

H.R. 4752 would amend the Act by clarifying that the term “common carrier” would not include a provider of information service or of advanced telecommunications capability.  The bill is currently in the House sub-committee on communications and technology but is not on the House agenda for hearing, markup, or vote.

There doesn’t appear to be any movement in the Democratic controlled U.S. Senate on legislation that would have the opposite effect of what Republicans in the House are proposing.  While Senate commerce, science, and transportation committee chairman John D. Rockefeller, Democrat of West Virginia, has been an ardent proponent of the Open Internet and Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, an equally strident advocate for reclassifying broadband access providers as Title II common carriers, there are no bills scheduled for hearing, vote, or markup, that would implement the Title II regulatory framework.

If the prognosticators are correct, the Republicans maybe biding time until after this November’s mid-term elections.  A number of forecasts are giving the GOP anywhere from a 51% to 60% chance of winning the U.S.Senate while keeping the U.S. House.

But even if the Republicans were to take both chambers and pass legislation similar to H.R. 4752, they would face the stiff challenge of a presidential veto.  They would need at least 290 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate to override a veto by President Obama and even with the chance of winning both chambers, I don’t see those numbers materializing.

Without statutory authority, open Internet rules are dead.  Adherence to open Internet principles, as evidenced by past broadband access provider behavior, will continue, however.

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Ooops. I hope I’m not stirring up a liberal uprising

We are in the middle of the silly season and social networking sites will be abuzz this week as the Democratic Party kicks off its national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s a good time to have a broadband connection as the activity on Twitter showed last week during the Republican Party’s convention in Tampa, Florida. Whether you support the GOP or not, if you are an avid political geek as yours truly, you were definitely getting in your two cents on how well the Republicans were making their case for whether they should be allowed four years in the White House.

Pew Research recently released an assessment of how all this tweeting and Facebook posting is impacting political discourse in America. Overall, the report found that postings to social networking sites are having some impact on political views, especially among people who identify themselves as Democrats or liberals. According to Pew Research, 24% of liberal social network site users and 18% of moderate social network site users said that use of social network sites have prompted them to change their political views. Only 11% of conservatives who use social network sites are prompted to change their views as a result of interacting online.

In addition, 25% of social network users have become more active as a result of using social network sites. Sixteen percent of social network site users have changed their political views as a result of interacting on the sites. Nine percent of social network site users took the opposite turn and became less engaged with political discussion as a result of postings online.

Oh well. Happy tweeting and see you tonight online at least.

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FCC: The GOP platform gets it

The Republican Party included in its platform its vision for the relationship between the communications industry and government. It’s a good start. First, check out the platform:

“The most vibrant sector of the American economy, indeed, one-sixth of it, is regulated by the federal government on precedents from the nineteenth century. Today’s technology and telecommunications industries are overseen by the Federal Communications Commission, established in 1934 and given the jurisdiction over telecommunications formerly assigned to the Interstate Commerce Commission, which had been created in 1887 to regulate the railroads.

This is not a good fit. Indeed, the development of telecommunications advances so rapidly that even the Telecom Act of 1996 is woefully out of date. An industry that invested $66 billion in 2011 alone needs, and deserves, a more modern relationship with the federal government for the benefit of consumers here and worldwide.

The current Administration has been frozen in the past. It has conducted no auction of spectrum, has offered no incentives for investment, and, through the FCC’s net neutrality rule, is trying to micromanage telecom as if it were a railroad network. It inherited from the previous Republican Administration 95 percent coverage of the nation with broadband. It will leave office with no progress toward the goal of universal coverage – after spending $7.2 billion more.

That hurts rural America, where farmers, ranchers, and small business manufacturers need connectivity to expand their customer base and operate in real time with the world’s producers. We encourage public-private partnerships to provide predictable support for connecting rural areas so that every American can fully participate in the global economy.

We call for an inventory of federal agency spectrum to determine the surplus that could be auctioned for the taxpayers’ benefit. With special recognition of the role university technology centers are playing in attracting private investment to the field, we will replace the administration’s Luddite approach to technological progress with a regulatory partnership that will keep this country the world leader in technology and telecommunications.”

Should the GOP take the Congress, I would recommend legislating away the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Those rules strike at the very core of a carriers freedom to manage its networks in the most efficient manner, in the way that carrier sees fit according to its business judgment.