Antitrust authorities at the U.S. Justice Department on Thursday warned regulators against imposing “network neutrality” regulations that would bar broadband Internet service companies from charging extra to some content providers, reports Reuters.
In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission, the department said some network neutrality proposals “could deter broadband Internet providers from upgrading and expanding their networks to reach more Americans. Regulators should be careful not to impose regulations that could limit consumer choice and investment in broadband facilities,” said Thomas O. Barnett, Assistant Attorney General in the antitrust division, sounding a lot like an AT&T executive.
Some lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to get net neutrality legislation passed last year. Proponents of net neutrality want legislation prohibiting broadband carriers like AT&T and Comcast from discriminatory practices in handling commercial Internet traffic. Companies like Google and eBay want to prevent Internet providers from charging extra fees to guarantee access or give priority to some content.
The idea has been staunchly opposed by AT&T and Verizon, who say they would not block access to public Internet sites, but want to offer private Internet-based services with faster speeds for uses such as downloading movies.
Martin made his media push before his proposal was circulated among the other four commissioners, a move criticized by former FCC General Counsel Henry Geller. “In my day you couldn’t treat the other commissioners that way,” Geller said. “It’s kind of a fait accompli.”
Industry reaction to the media reports was swift and fierce.
Verizon Wireless described the proposal as a “Google Block” on the auction, favoring the giant search engine company over other potential bidders. AT&T said the proposed restrictions would “devalue this spectrum, thereby robbing the U.S. Treasury and taxpayers of its full worth.”
Their wrath was short-lived.
On July 16, James W. Cicconi, AT&T’s chief of government affairs and general counsel, visited Martin and his chief of staff, Daniel Gonzalez. Two days after the visit, AT&T dropped its opposition to the plan, with Cicconi describing Martin’s open-access model in a publicly released statement as “an experiment.”
Verizon also tempered its criticism, following a visit with Martin by Verizon Wireless CEO Lowell McAdam and former Rep. Tom Tauke, R-Iowa, Verizon’s public policy chief.
Despite the pro-consumer spin that Martin put on his idea, some industry analysts concluded the auction rules would do little to encourage the emergence of a new wireless competitor to challenge the incumbents . . .
In related news, two senators today announced their plans to introduce a bill aimed at improving wireless service for cellphone users, reports the Washington Post. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the authors of what they call the Cellphone Consumer Empowerment Act, are both members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the wireless industry.
The bill would require wireless carriers to pro-rate early termination fees (a practice already put in place by Verizon Wireless), as well as provide consumers with a detailed map of service quality dropped-call areas. The bill would also prohibit carriers from charging any extra fees unless they are explicitly required by state or federal regulation.
The senators are also asking the Federal Communications Commission to take a hard look at handset locking, or the ability of carriers to prevent cellphones to be used with other service providers. That’s been a hot issue lately as some people have found ways to modify Apple’s iPhone so that it can be used on networks other than AT&T’s.