I’m writing in response to Don Adams’ comments in his letter of May 10, “Keep the Internet free and open.”
Although Mr. Adams claims to support the goals of what has come to be called “net neutrality” (no paid prioritization, throttling or blocking of data to users by Internet broadband providers), he feels the recent actions taken by the FCC to achieve these goals, via reclassifying broadband Internet service as a “public utility,” is creating a “cumbersome, out-of-date regulatory scheme” that will “stifle innovation and discourage investment.”
This common talking point about “public utility” classification being too cumbersome has never, in all the many times I have heard it, provided an example of just what is so terrible about it. What could be simpler than “give your customers the data they ask for without discrimination”? I assume Mr. Adams has electric service to his home. If he lives in a less-than-wealthy neighborhood, has he considered he might never have had that service if electricity wasn’t considered a public utility? Also, ensuring that all Americans had access to electricity created vast new markets for electric appliances, creating a whole new industry in the early part of the last century — much like the current nondiscriminatory Internet has created the Web boom.
As to the “stifling innovation” part, I suggest everyone try an experiment. Ask a friend, neighbor or family member to name any companies which they associate with “innovation on the Internet.” Write those company names down, and then go look up their stances on net neutrality. The vast majority will come up with names like “Google,” “Netflix,” “Apple,” etc. Does it tell you anything that every one of those companies supports net neutrality? No one associates the names “Comcast” or “Time Warner Cable” with Internet innovation; at least, no one who isn’t a telecom corporation executive or lobbyist. Yet these are the outlets making the argument that net neutrality will harm innovation, not the innovators themselves.
As to Adams’ demand that the FCC enforce his desired nondiscrimination regimen without resorting to “onerous” public utility classification: Is he aware that, in fact, the FCC already tried to do this? And the telecom giants immediately went to court, and in early 2014 the court ruled that the FCC’s piecemeal rules were unsupportable. But the court also said explicitly that it was within current telecommunications law that the FCC could instead achieve this goal by classifying broadband as a public utility.
It is the very telecom companies themselves that forced the FCC to apply public utility status to guarantee the nondiscriminatory Internet which Mr. Adams wants.