Four Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to FCC Chair Julius Genachowski on Monday urging the commission to enact stricter net neutrality regulations than those proposed by Google and Verizon last week. (Scroll down for its full text.) The letter stresses that the Google-Verizon framework could "widen the digital divide." It comes on the heels of new revelations that, prior to the Google-Verizon pact, the FCC was actually close to coming up with those regulations. A series of closed-door meetings were abruptly called off after the two Internet giants announced their joint proposal.
The congressional letter, sent by Reps. Edward Markey, Jay Inslee, Anna Eshoo, and Mike Doyle, was a strong endorsement of net neutrality--the long-held principle that the Internet should be a level playing field, with all applications and services treated equally and without interference from service providers. (For a refresher, read our primer on what the broadband debate's about, and how it impacts communities of color).
Google's headquarters are located in Eshoo's northern California congressional district.
According to The Hill, the authors take aim at two parts of the Google-Verizon proposal: exemptions for managed services and wireless services from strict net-neutrality rules.
Failing to cover wireless services with strict Internet traffic rules "could widen the digital divide by establishing a substandard, less open experience for traditionally underserved regions and demographic groups that may more often need to access or choose to access the Internet on a mobile device," the letter said.
While studies have shown that those "traditionally underserved regions and demographic groups" have relied on wireless mobile devices to incrementally gain more access to the Internet, advocates say it's not enough. They're pushing for affordable and reliable home-based broadband service, and maintain that net neutrality is a key component to that fight.
"We don't view this as a retreat at all," Alan Davidson, Google's director of public policy, told the New York Times of the new proposal. "Google believes very strongly in net neutrality."
Many people outside of the company think otherwise. Last Friday, protestors gathered outside of Google's headquarters in northern California to protest the plan, which many viewed as a sudden shift in the company's rhetoric. While Google has strongly defended its plan, the company's done little to justify proposing a deregulated wireless framework. In a recent rebuttal on Google's public policy blog, the company summed up its deference on wireless regulation to "the spirit of compromise."
It's already been acknowledged by industry insiders that the Google-Verizon proposal will be seen as a blueprint for future negotiations on net neutrality, and already AT&T has called the Google-Verizon plan a "reasonable framework."
To make matters worse, the New York Times recently reported that the FCC was "very close" to reaching a much stricter draft compromise agreement with the two companies and several other key Internet players, including AT&T, Skype, and Open Internet Coalition. Unlike the Google-Verizon stand-alone proposal, the FCC-led compromise would have reportedly included some rules on wireless Internet.
The FCC abruptly called off its negotiations after Google and Verizon proposed its deal. At the time, Eddie Lazarus, FCC Chair Genachowski's chief of staff, told the Washington Post that the meetings had been "productive on several fronts, but has not generated a robust framework to preserve the openness and freedom of the Internet."
See the full letter sent to the FCC below:
The Honorable Julius Genachowski
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street
Washington, DC 20554
Dear Chairman Genachowski:
The deployment of broadband service is a national imperative - as important to our nation's economic success, growth and competitiveness as the postal roads, canals, rail lines, and interstate highways of the past.
Following the D.C. Circuit Court's Comcast decision earlier this year, the Commission's regulatory authority with respect to this vital engine of our economy was upended. Accordingly, the initiation in May of a proceeding on Commission authority was an appropriate and tailored response to the Court's Comcast ruling. Reclassification and clear FCC oversight as contemplated by your "Third Way" proposal is critically important for bringing the benefits of broadband to all Americans and achieving the goals set forth in the landmark National Broadband Plan, including advancement of consumer welfare, energy independence and efficiency, job creation and other national priorities.
The recent proposal by Google and Verizon of an industry-centered net neutrality policy framework reinforces the need for resolution of the current open proceedings at the Commission to ensure the maintenance of an open Internet. Rather than expansion upon a proposal by two large communications companies with a vested financial interest in the outcome, formal FCC action is needed. The public interest is served by a free and open Internet that continues to be an indispensable platform for innovation, investment, entrepreneurship, and free speech.
As the Commission's broadband proceeding moves forward, we believe that the Commission should be guided by the following fundamental principles:
- The FCC must have oversight authority for broadband access services.
The United States has fallen behind other nations in terms of broadband deployment and adoption because of the failure to properly plan for its development and support its use; however, the National Broadband Plan represents a monumental step towards increasing deployment and adoption and unleashing the power of high speed access to create jobs, improve health care delivery, upgrade public safety tools and expand educational opportunities. Without the proper authority to implement all facets of the Plan, we will not fulfill its full promise or achieve its goals. Classification of broadband access service under Title II, combined with the Commission's forbearance authority, would provide the necessary certainty for broadband network operators, broadband users, and Internet innovators alike.
- Paid prioritization would close the open Internet.
Paid prioritization is contrary to the fundamental non-discrimination principles that have made the Internet the most successful communications and commercial medium in history. Such arrangements would favor certain content providers to the detriment of other content creators, degrading the traffic of providers unable or unwilling to pay. These types of arrangements, whether they are called paid prioritization or fast lanes harm the Internet. A commonsense non-discrimination requirement without loopholes is essential for an efficient marketplace where businesses and consumers - not carriers - decide the winners and losers in the Internet ecosystem. We strongly encourage you to reject any policy proposals that would permit paid prioritization of delivery of Internet content.
- Wired and wireless services should have a common regulatory framework and rules.
Exclusion of wireless services from open Internet requirements could widen the digital divide by establishing a substandard, less open experience for traditionally underserved regions and demographic groups that may more often need to access or choose to access the Internet on a mobile device. Moreover, such inconsistent principles could confuse consumers, who would have different and uneven experiences depending solely on the connection that their mobile devices might use to reach the Internet. An Internet framework excluding wireless from important consumer safeguards could impede attainment of national broadband goals, while lessening the potential for wireless platforms to serve unserved and underserved areas.
- Broad "managed services" exceptions would swallow open Internet rules.
An overbroad definition of the proposed "managed services" category would sap the vitality and stunt the growth of the Internet. In fact, an overly broad interpretation of managed services would create an exception that swallows the rule. For example, managed services might be rebranded or repackaged services and applications - only with priority treatment not available to competitors. By undermining competition and the value of the open Internet, managed services could have significantly negative consequences for consumers and commercial enterprises.
In sum, we believe that any rules that result from the Commission's proceedings should focus on adherence to the public interest, discourage attempts to strangle the free-flow of lawful content, applications and services for American consumers and provide certainty both for entrepreneurs and Internet users. The time for FCC action is now. We look forward to continuing to work with you and other members of the Commission to ensure that the Commission's Open Internet proceeding moves forward to protect the public interest.
Thank you for your consideration.