The Federal Communications Commission hosted the first segment of its Open Internet Roundtable on Tuesday, focusing on potential policy approaches for “protecting and promoting internet openness.”
The event brought together academics, policy experts and representatives of technology companies to discuss whether further regulation of the internet is necessary, and if so, what form such regulation should take. (RELATED: FCC Votes for New ‘Net Neutrality’ Internet Regulations)
One possibility would be to regulate internet service providers (ISP’s) under Title II of the 1996 Telecom Act, which would empower the government to enforce “net neutrality” through price controls and other forms of regulation. For years, Europe has employed a similar approach to regulating broadband.
Daniel Pataki, executive director of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO), spoke forcefully against regulating the internet under Title II, telling the FCC: “You got it right, so don’t spoil it.”
“Several studies show that Europe is lagging in broadband investment because of its regulatory regime,” Pataki said, whereas “one of the pillars of U.S. success has been its light regulatory touch.” (RELATED: House Committee Passes Resolution Opposing UN Internet Regulation)
The panelists were also asked to elaborate on “the harms to internet openness in the absence of open internet regulations.” Of particular concern was whether “paid prioritization”—where an ISP charges fees to content providers for faster delivery of services—is harmful or beneficial to consumers.
David Young, VP of federal regulatory affairs for Verizon, argued that paid prioritization is not really a problem to begin with. “Going back to the earliest days of broadband deployment,” he said, “there was nothing that would have prevented paid prioritization arrangements, and yet they did not happen.” He also pointed out that, “allowing the possibility of these things is not the same as them actually happening.”
Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation, went even further, saying paid prioritization is actually beneficial to consumers because it allows for more competition in the marketplace. “The market has changed in the direction of more competition,” he said, adding that, “it is time for some regulatory restraint as the marketplace changes.”
May also pointed out that paid prioritization would not necessarily present an obstacle to start-ups, because “when someone has a good idea for a new service, they can go out and get investment capital.” Rather than speculating about potential harms, he said that the FCC should focus more on “whether there has been a consumer outcry.” (RELATED: The Consumer Costs of Net Neutrality)
However, Barbara van Schewick, a law professor at Stanford University, said that, “one of the real issues with waiting and seeing is that we will never see the harm, because the harm will be innovation that is not occurring.” She explained that, “start-ups tell us that in a world with access fees, they would not exist.”
She also claimed that, “the rules we propose allow user-controlled prioritization,” which gives consumers a choice of whether to pay additional fees for faster delivery speeds of the services they use most. Without such rules, she warned, ISP’s could apply monopoly pricing to access fees, forcing users to pay more for popular services, whether they use them or not.
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