As part of a last ditch effort to derail the FCC’s net neutrality rules, you might recall that Senator John Thune and Representative Fred Upton earlier this year pushed an amendment to the Communications Act that they professed would codify net neutrality into law as part of a “bipartisan” proposal crafted after a painstaking public conversation. What the ISP-dictated amendment actually did was effectively gut FCC authority, pushing forth net neutrality rules significantly weaker than the already-flimsy 2010 rules Verizon sued to overturn.
Thune, Upton and the mega ISPs hoped their effort would go something like this: table some incredibly weak net neutrality rules under the pretense of consumer welfare, make a few minor concessions, then pass a still-flimsy amendment that would have killed the Title II push in the cradle. The problem is that most neutrality supporters in Congress saw this fairly-shallow ploy for what it was (or at the very least feared the wrath of a SOPA-fueled internet grassroots community). As such, Thune and Upton have had trouble getting neutrality supporters to sign off on the idea — especially without the help of fellow Senate Commerce Committee member Bill Nelson:
“On Wednesday, (Nelson) reiterated what he’s been saying for weeks: That he’s open to working with Republicans on a “truly bipartisan” bill aimed at preventing Internet providers from speeding up, slowing down or blocking Web sites. But he’ll only cooperate, he said, “provided such action fully protects consumers, does not undercut the FCC’s role and leaves the agency with flexible, forward-looking authority to respond to the changes in this dynamic broadband marketplace.”
Except that’s not happening, because that’s precisely what Thune and friends don’t want. Enter Verizon, who like AT&T and Comcast, has been desperately trying to gut FCC authority for years (and had been succeeding until recently). While Verizon did sue to overturn the 2010 rules, it wasn’t the rules themselves the telco was taking aim at (after all, it co-wrote them, and the rules had the full support of companies like AT&T and Comcast). Verizon hoped a legal win would not only gut the rules, but also FCC authority moving forward. That backfired spectacularly, given the FCC only shifted to Title II after Verizon’s lawsuits repeatedly showed you can’t regulate ISPs like common carriers — without first declaring they’re common carriers. The entire shift to title II is, quite literally, thanks to Verizon.
Fast forward to this week, and Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam fired off a letter to Thune, Upton and the other leaders of the House and Senate Commerce committees (pdf), urging Congress to take the reins and
punish the FCC for standing up to wealthy broadband companiesbegin updating “outdated and broken” telecom law. To hear Verizon’s version of history, everything was going great until the FCC came along and decided to destroy the Internet:
“The broadband and mobile markets are America’s greatest ongoing success stories: 20 years of bipartisan light-touch policy consensus has led to more than $1.2 trillion in private investment, resulting in a transition from 128 kilobit dial-up connections and analog wireless voice networks in the late 1990’s to today’s near-ubiquitous 4G mobile data coverage and fixed broadband networks capable of streaming simultaneous HD movies. The FCC claimed it was addressing concerns about an open Internet, something that Congress could and can – address with clarity and finality in a two-page bipartisan bill. Instead, the FCC went far beyond open Internet rules, engaging in a radical and risky experiment to change the very policy that resulted in the United States leading the world in the Internet economy.”
Like Thune and Upton, McAdam continues to bandy around the word “bipartisan” when what they’re actually pushing is anything but. In short, Verizon wants the FCC’s authority gutted and all policy making moving forward under the authority of a Congress slathered in telco lobbying cash. Not only does McAdam want Congress to push flimsy net neutrality rules, Verizon is pushing hard for a total rewrite of the 1996 Telecom Act — because the Title II rules Verizon’s successfully used to build a massive wireless empire are “outdated and broken”:
“At its root, these are all symptoms of a problem: the existing legal regime and its accompanying regulatory processes are outdated and broken. Congress last established a clear policy framework almost 20 years ago, well before most of today’s technology was even developed. As a result, regulators are applying early 20th century tools to highly dynamic 21st century markets and technologies. Inefficiencies and collateral damage are inevitable. It is time for Congress to re-take responsibility for policymaking in the Internet ecosystem.”
And by “take responsibility,” Verizon actually means it’s time for Congress to take Verizon campaign contribution cash and write new laws ensuring that broadband industry regulators have the strength of babies, the freedom and authority of an asylum inmate, and the budget of a high-school prom committee.
The real irony of course is that regulators wouldn’t keep intervening in Verizon’s market if the telco didn’t consistently engage in behavior that made it necessary. Again, the FCC only shifted to Title II after Verizon sued to overturn its 2010, industry-friendly net neutrality rules. Similarly, the entire net neutrality conversation wouldn’t be happening if Verizon didn’t have a long, proud history of trying to block every technological innovation it deemed a threat. If Verizon’s honestly looking to affix blame for the regulatory policy chaos of the last few years, it doesn’t have to look very far.