Looking for the Best Approach to Preserve the Open Internet

Earlier this month, the Commission kept the last in its series of six Open Internet Roundtables. At each one of these roundtables—totaling over 20 hours— panelists along with diverse viewpoints dove into many of the thorniest issues in this proceeding, responding to questions from the public, FCC moderators, and the Chairman. The Chairman, Commissioners, and stakeholders have also engaged in energetic discussions of these issues at occasions around the country. All for the purpose determined by the Commission in its Open Web NPRM: to find the best approach to protect plus promote Internet openness.

We listened and we learned. Along with specific regard to the Roundtables, here are some key takeaways.

We heard economists debating harms to Internet openness, including but not restricted to broadband providers’ incentives and capability to engage in anti-competitive behavior. We heard engineers describing Internet technologies, including current techniques for managing today’s networks. And we heard enforcement experts talking about how to design an enforcement procedure for open Internet rules that will balances certainty, flexibility, and gain access to for all stakeholders.

Each of us also personally moderated sections about the Commission’s legal authority plus policy choices for fixed and mobile broadband services.

At the legal roundtable, we heard considerable debate about the rainbow of lawful options on which the Commission can base its Open Internet guidelines. Some maintained that reclassifying the retail broadband service provides the most powerful legal ground. Others at the roundtable suggested that a “greenfield” classification of the service furnished by broadband suppliers to the edges of the network like a telecommunications service could be even easier to defend. Some claimed the same regarding relying solely on Section 706. Still others embraced hybrid techniques, such as using section 706 plus Title II in tandem to back up open Internet rules and U.s. congressman Waxman’s proposal to reclassify the retail service under Title II but adopt substantive rules using Section 706. But the end from the roundtables is not the end of the dialogue: we continue to benefit from ongoing general public discussion and welcome filings that will compare and contrast the different legal options.

The debates we heard at the mobile roundtable centered on whether mobile should be subject to the same types of rules that would apply to fixed broadband providers. That question raised problems of technology – for example several recent filings discuss the specialized similarities and differences of mobile and fixed broadband, including what constitutes good network management for mobile suppliers. Also important is an on-going lawful debate, questioning whether the Commission can interpret the statutory definition of Commercial Mobile Service—the only mobile assistance subject to Title II regulation—to apply to a mobile broadband service that could not use the North American Numbering Strategy. We welcome additional thoughts concerning the network management of fixed plus mobile broadband networks as well as the Commission’s legal authority to act in this area.

Panelists at the opening roundtable, which focused on tailoring policy to harms, debated paid prioritization—a subject central to many comments in our report. Some parties have urged a flat ban on these practices. Other people believe a presumption that paid prioritization violates the law would protect Internet openness. This is a central problem: how best can the Percentage prevent harm to the virtuous group of innovation, consumer demand, plus broadband deployment, which unites the interests of consumers, edge providers, and other stakeholders?

The roundtables are now over. But our quest for the best approach to protecting and promoting Internet openness continues. We accepted further input on these issues and more as we work toward this objective.

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