A Consumer-Based Standard for Protecting the Open Internet

Posted by: Bob Quinn on January 15, 2010 at 10:22 am

Last night, we filed comments in the FCC’s Open Internet rulemaking.  For those of you who want to read our submission in full, you can do so here.  Also, I’m happy to report that we have three bonus features attached to our filing.  First, a paper written by two respected, former FCC officials, Gerald Faulhaber and David Farber.  Second, two wireless experts, Jeffrey Reed and Nishith Tripathi, discuss the impact of the proposed rules on wireless broadband networks.  And third, Marius Schwartz, former DoJ official in the Clinton Administration provides an economic analysis and likely effects of the proposed rules.

For those that want the cliff’s notes version of our filing, you can continue reading this blog post.

AT&T supports the goal that this rulemaking embarks to accomplish:  preserve the openness of the Internet while maintaining the right incentives for deployment of next-generation “smart” networks needed to support all the applications, content and services that consumers want.  Although undoubtedly developed with the best of intentions, we don’t believe that the FCC’s proposed rules, as written, will accomplish these goals.  However, we hope and fully expect that, as this process moves forward, many of the concerns and questions being raised from a lot of different quarters will be addressed and we will retain a framework that protects Internet openness while preserving incentives that will promote infrastructure investment to keep the Internet the vibrant marketplace it is today.

So, what’s our beef you ask?  In a nutshell, the Internet has never been healthier or more open, and for more than four years running now, the existing policy framework, has successfully brought us an explosion in innovation, investment, and more and better services and devices.  It seems that for as long as I can remember, we have had certain pundits wringing their hands and trotting out the parade of horribles that would happen if rigid Net Neutrality rules weren’t created.  We heard that broadband competition was dead or that broadband providers would block websites, censor opinions or otherwise direct where people could or could not go on the Internet.  We heard that mobile carriers would “cripple” wireless devices and features and erect a “walled garden” Internet to protect their revenues.  We heard that the evil broadband companies would kill innovation and that no one on the “edge” would invest to create new services or content.

None of that of course happened.  Just ask YouTube or Facebook or Twitter – all created despite the absence of those rigid rules those pundits craved.  You should especially look at wireless where massive infrastructure investment is creating a 3rd, 4th, 5th or 6th broadband provider in many markets.  Rather than becoming walled gardens, those wireless platforms spawned literally hundreds of thousands of wireless applications from third-party developers.  This trend—kick-started by the iPhone—continues today, as just last week, we announced five new Android handsets that will soon join the many other Android-based devices on the market today, including Google’s own Nexus One “super phone.”  Overall, the Internet continues to explode with new, innovative websites and content coming online every day.  It took McDonald’s 15 years to serve 1 billion hamburgers; it took Apple 9 months to have 1 billion apps downloaded.  Talk about “Dewey Defeats Truman,” those pundits couldn’t have been more wrong.

Indeed, there have been just two incidents ever brought to the attention of the FCC that involved allegations of conduct deemed to violate Internet Openness.  And in both cases, the public spotlight quickly resulted in policy changes by those companies to correct the perceived problems.  We have and can achieve Internet Openness while at same time encouraging the continued network investment that has brought and continues to bring increased bandwidth and faster Internet speeds to consumers.

But as consumers devour more and more bandwidth, broadband owners need to manage that information flow in ways to ensure the Internet continues to work and doesn’t start to look like the Capital Beltway on a Friday afternoon.  One way to do that is to recognize that all bits are not created equal – every new application and piece of content being created does not require the same amount of network resources to function the way their creators intend them to function.  We have been providing QoS in the enterprise market for years with no complaints and a bunch of satisfied customers.  Innovations in the consumer space which enable new applications, like maybe the consumer equivalent of Cisco’s Telepresence service, will be a huge benefit to consumers and will ensure that communications continue to move farther and farther away from that old rotary dial black telephone that our grandparents used.  Rules that would ban us from creating, supporting or providing those services would stop innovation in its tracks.  That is why it is so critical to maintain this balance that both preserves openness and encourages companies to invest in infrastructure.

We have that balance today and we have real doubts that we can maintain that balance if the Commission moves forward on its proposals.  As we have said before, if the Commission does decide to make rules here, it needs to make some changes to the proposals it made in the NPRM, and must recognize that wireless broadband is a completely different animal than wireline broadband.   In short, consumer demand, not overly prescriptive regulation, has produced the host of pro-consumer breakthroughs that we are enjoying on the Internet today.  We recognize, of course, that more needs to be done and that the networks we have today won’t be sufficient for the Internet we all want in the future.  That is why it is so important that government policies need to preserve openness while continuing to promote our ability to invest in the infrastructure we need to keep the Internet a vibrant marketplace for everyone.

For a summary of our comments, click here.

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