WASHINGTON, February 15, 2011 – The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Committee on Telecommunications convened a panel of industry experts Monday morning to discuss the Federal Communications Commission’s recently issued Open Internet Order and its legal ramifications.
The panel of experts ranged from industry representatives such as Mike Skerivan from Fairpoint, a local exchange carrier, to Harold Feld from the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. All of the participants agreed that while the Open Internet Order is not perfect, the Commission needed to act on the issue of network neutrality. With the Order issued, the FCC can now move onto other issues.
Jennie Chandra, Senior Policy Counsel at Windstream a rural broadband provider expressed her disappointment that the Order separated wireline and wireless providers. Chandra claimed that the order forces wireline providers to follow rules from which wireless providers are exempt, such as network management techniques. By separating wireline and wireless, a serious market imbalance will occur, she claimed, adding that while the market for wireless continues to grow, it should face the same regulations as wireline since it provides the same service.
Feld stated that the order, while powerful, could have gone further to protect consumers and he would have preferred to see the implementation of Chairman Genachowski’s Third Way proposal. The Third way would have allowed the FCC to forge a middle ground between using ancillary authority under Title I regulation and stricter Title II requirements. In contrast the Open Internet Order relies heavily on Title I.
When asked about Verizon’s recent appeal against the FCC challenging the Order, Feld said that the suit was filed prematurely. Verizon, he said, must wait for the Federal Register to publish the Order before the carrier can pursue any legal action. The publishing date will most likely be in three months due to a backlog at the Office of Management and Budget. The agency must review the order to ensure it follows paperwork reduction and transparency rules.
Rick Cimerman from National Cable & Telecommunications Association postulated that “Verizon wanted the case to be heard in the [United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit] since they ruled against the FCC in the BitTorrent Comcast case.”
Commissioner John Burke from the Vermont Public Service Board asked the panel what they thought of the bills currently in Congress.
“If the House bill in opposition to network neutrality were passed it would never pass the Senate, ” said Chandra, adding that if the bill did somehow make it through Congress, the President would not likely sign it.
Cimerman noted that at least for now, net neutrality simply is not a priority item for most of Congress.
“Network neutrality is an important issue to [the telecommunications community],” he said, “but the House is more concerned with overturing healthcare and financial reform.”
Feld brought up the point that the House could undermine the Open Internet Order by underfunding the FCC or simply preventing the FCC to use any of its budget for the enforcement of the rules. He then agreed with Cimerman that the house could use its budgetary authority to undermine network neutrality that this is highly unlikely due to the importance of other issues.