Photo: Paul Mayne (Flickr)
The Federal Communications Commission is considering a new rule that would allow broadband providers such as AT&T and Time Warner Cable to charge internet content providers such as Google or Netflix for faster internet speeds.
Gretchen Frazee sat down to talk to Barbara Cherry, an Indiana University Telecommunications Professor, former FCC official and former AT&T State Government Affairs Attorney, to talk about what the FCC proposal could mean for Hoosiers.
Here are some highlights from the conversation:
Frazee: How did this all start?
Cherry: In 2002, the FCC classified cable modem access to the internet as Title I information service. Under federal law, depending on whether you are Title I or Title II, a whole different set of regulations apply to you. The FCC has been challenged ever since about what to do about broadband internet providers–what obligations should they have?
Frazee: Who’s going to be most affected by this?
Cherry: It’s viewed as many as a vehicle through which broadband providers can earn extra profits, and artificially increase their profits because they are given the perverse incentive to slow down traffic and create congestion so they can convince content providers to pay them to speed it up.
It affects the content provider in that even Google would be considered a form of a provider. So what happens when someone wants to come along and be a new search engine or new content provider? It will be more difficult to break in. This could skew innovation in the market. Then there is a form of distortion or bias in terms of what customers can experience.
Frazee: Do state governments have a role in this?
Cherry: Jurisdiction traditionally with the telephone service was jointly held by the FCC, which regulates interstate commerce, and the state commissions who regulate intrastate commerce. In recent years, a number of states, including Indiana, have passed laws at the state legislatures that increasingly cut down the jurisdictions of the state commissions.
Frazee: What is the FCC’s angle here? Are there political motivations at play here?
Cherry: What is likely happening here, is that the chairman is seeking, at least as a first step, something that is politically more acceptable, and less likely to anger the Republicans.
Frazee: What do you mean politically more acceptable? why would they have any opposition to reclassifying?
Cherry: Historically, as you can probably imagine on a lot of issues whether it’s healthcare or other things, there’s tended to be party alignment on net neutrality. The key order of the FCC in 2002 that changed the classification to a title and information service was done during a Republican administration. The chair of the commission was Michael Powell, and a majority of the commissioners were Republican appointees. Now, since Obama has been president, we have a majority of the commissioners that are Democrat and the chairmen are Democrats. To reclassify as a common-carrier service would anger the Republicans a lot, because their view of deregulation, there way of moving the industry was to change the classification of services. To reclassify to them is going backwards.
What the fear is is that Congress might have backlash, at least as influenced by the Republicans who still control the House and can still filibuster in the Senate. The commission might have to worry, for example, about appropriations. The commission still has to have its budget approved in appropriations made by Congress for them.