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The nation’s biggest home Internet and mobile broadband providers say they’re big fans of net neutrality—but they’re also really glad that the Federal Communications Commission is preparing to dismantle its net neutrality rules.
“We continue to strongly support a free and open Internet and the preservation of modern, strong, and legally enforceable net neutrality protections,” Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in a statement today. “We don’t block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content delivered over the Internet, and we are committed to continuing to manage our business and network with the goal of providing the best possible consumer experience.”
Comcast’s blocking of BitTorrent traffic in 2007 helped start a decade-long debate over how the FCC should enforce net neutrality. Net neutrality rules were issued by the FCC in 2010, but they were struck down by a federal appeals court in 2014 after a lawsuit was filed by Verizon. The court said that the FCC could not enforce its net neutrality rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization without reclassifying ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.
An FCC decision in 2015 reinstated the net neutrality rules by reclassifying ISPs under Title II. Now, ISPs claim they support net neutrality rules but not the use of the legal authority that allows the FCC to enforce those net neutrality rules.
“We fully support reversal of Title II classification, a 1930s statute that is outdated and harms consumers by creating a cloud over broadband investment decisions and innovation,” Roberts wrote today. Roberts said he wants “a fresh constructive dialogue,” but he did not say exactly how net neutrality should be enforced.
In 2011, Comcast agreed to abide by net neutrality rules in exchange for US government approval of its purchase of NBCUniversal, but that merger condition is scheduled to expire next year. Comcast is the country’s largest cable and home Internet provider.
In a blog post, Comcast Cable Senior Executive VP David Cohen argued that “Title II is not net neutrality.”
“Title II is a source of authority to impose enforceable net neutrality rules,” he wrote. “Title II is not net neutrality. Getting rid of Title II does not mean that we are repealing net neutrality protections for American consumers.”
But so far, Title II is the only FCC authority for enforcing net neutrality rules that has stood up in court, and overturning the Title II net neutrality decision would leave no net neutrality rules in place.
Verizon, AT&T, and Charter weigh in
plan to eliminate the Title II net neutrality rules and did not detail any replacement for them.
Verizon Deputy General Counsel Kathy Grillo also issued a statement praising Pai for eliminating the Title II rules. She said that Congress should make the call on how to enforce net neutrality rules.
“Verizon supports net neutrality policies that protect an open Internet without discouraging competition and slowing job-generating investments,” Grillo said. “We continue to believe that the right answer is for Congress to move forward on legislation that once and for all adopts clear, enforceable, and strong net neutrality protections.” Verizon operates the nation’s largest mobile broadband network and offers home Internet service.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said his company “continues to support the fundamental tenets of net neutrality” and “remain[s] committed to open Internet protections that are fair and equal for everyone.” But the FCC shouldn’t regulate Internet service “under an 80-year-old law designed to set rates for the rotary-dial-telephone era,” he wrote. He went on to praise “Chairman Pai’s initiative to remove this stifling regulatory cloud over the Internet.”
Charter, the second biggest cable company in the US, said, “We don’t block, slow down, or otherwise interfere with the online activity of our customers and we routinely upgrade our networks and interconnection points before congestion occurs.” The company said it supports “bipartisan legislation” to enforce net neutrality.
Under former Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC accused AT&T and Verizon Wireless of violating net neutrality rules by exempting their own video services from mobile data caps while charging other video providers for the same data cap exemptions. Pai ended that investigation and would prevent similar investigations in the future if he is successful in overturning the Title II classification.
Pai’s announcement today was also praised by several broadband industry lobby groups, while consumer advocacy groups and companies that operate websites and other Internet-connected services want the rules to remain in place.
FCC’s lone Democrat fights to save rules
Pai has a 2-1 Republican majority on the FCC, and he has scheduled a vote for May 18 on a proposed rulemaking that would seek public comment before making a final decision. His opposition on the FCC is Mignon Clyburn, the commission’s only Democrat.
“The FCC’s majority will tell you they support an open Internet, but what you should ask them is how they plan to protect it,” Clyburn said at a press conference today. “The majority says that they believe consumers should be protected, and with today’s plan, my question is how do they plan to do so? Actions speak louder than words, and the FCC must not take a back seat while the nation’s broadband providers are calling all the shots.”
Net neutrality rules are important, especially given the fact that “the average American has no real choice for high-speed broadband where they live,” Clyburn also said.
“Broadband providers should not be in the driver’s seat, determining how you use the Internet, controlling what content you view, or dictating what kind of devices you can use,” she said.
Theoretically, Clyburn could deny Pai a quorum by skipping meetings, but she has said, “I have a job to do. I intend to do that job.” Only three commissioners are needed for a quorum, but the FCC is two commissioners short of its typical five-member composition. It’s up to President Donald Trump and the Senate to add new commissioners.
Disclosure: The Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which owns about 13 percent of Charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, which owns Ars Technica.