Sunday, January 4, 2015

REMINDER: Obama asks FCC to regulate Internet as utility


The Herald (Rock Hill, S.C.)

Regional cable companies Comporium and TruVista are wary of President Barack Obama's call to regulate Internet service providers as utilities.
The cable companies fear that regulations like those frequently imposed on utilities would affect the ability to expand the size and speed of their cable networks.
Late last year, Obama asked the Federal Communications Commission to create a new set of rules to make sure everyone has access to the Internet and that phone and cable companies would not be allowed "to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online."
Obama said there should be an "explicit ban on paid prioritization" agreements that allow large content providers such as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube to pay Internet companies for faster delivery of their content.
He also called on the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband services under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 while "forbearing" companies "from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services."
The move is seen by Obama and those who oppose his proposal as supporting net neutrality, the concept that Internet service providers should allow access to all content and applications regardless of their source, without favoring or blocking particular products or websites.
"We're not against net neutrality in theory," said Matt Dosch, executive vice president for customer operations and external affairs for Comporium, which provides cable services in York and Lancaster counties, as well as parts of some counties in the Midlands. "But what is the solution? That's when we get nervous."
Brian Singleton, president and CEO of Chester-based TruVista, said his concern is "that well-intended efforts have unintended consequences. Will new rules allow innovation or hinder them?"
Steve Dannelly, chairman of the Computer Science and Quantitative Methods Department at Winthrop University, acknowledges there has "been a tremendous amount of confusion" over the issue, and there are legitimate concerns for all parties.
"Telecommunication companies have spent a lot of money to build networks. The impact of the rules have to be fair," he said. "But I don't know if I trust the telecommunication companies to have the consumers' best interest in mind.
"My concern is, the telecommunication companies will make deals --- pick the winners and the losers instead of the consumer picking."
Doc Searls, founder of Project VRM at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, wrote in a study by Elon University: "We need to to understand the Internet as what it really is: a way to connect anyone and anything to anybody and anything else, with little if any regard for the means between the ends."
Nobody owns protocols that control operations of the Internet, Searls said.
"Everybody can use them," he said, "and anybody can improve them."
CTIA-The Wireless Association, which represents the international wireless communication industry, says regulation under the Communications Act of 1934 would treat "smartphones and tablets as roads, the electric grid, or water supply," and that the mobile communication industry has undergone "more changes in six months than these industries have in 60 years."
The idea of the Internet as a utility "isn't that absurd," Dannelly said. "There are things you have do today that require the Internet."
He cited his children's homework under Rock Hill School Districts' iRock computer education initiative, as just one example.
The utility analogy can be applied in several ways, however.
If companies that move large amounts of data over the Internet need constant, uninterrupted service, they would pay a premium rate, such as manufacturers pay to electric companies for guaranteed service.
"Some applications need faster access, a guaranteed class of service," Singleton said.
TruVista's need for bandwidth has increased tenfold since 2008, he said, and at times, Netflix accounts for 50 percent of its traffic.
Comporium and TruVista officials stressed that while the new rules are debated, there should be no impact on services to their customers.
Comporium remains committed to expanding its Zipstream gigabit service to residential areas, Dosch said. TruVista will continue to expand its footprint in rural areas, Dannelly said, which is a costly undertaking. TruVista's capital budget for system expansion is about $6 million.
AT&T initially said it would delay expansion of its gigabit fiber network pending FCC rules, but has since backed away from that statement.
AT&T Senior Vice President Robert Quinn told the FCC that net neutrality would affect only investments beyond AT&T's efforts to bring gigabit services to 100 cities, including Charlotte. Google is also interested in the Charlotte market for high-speed Internet service.
AT&T said it would "pause consideration" of any further investments, even upgrades to DSL networks which transmit data using local telephone networks, while net neutrality is considered by the FCC.
There is no timetable for the FCC to act. Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has said the agency will take its time and, no matter what is proposed, that he expects the rules to be challenged in court. As an independent federal agency, the FCC is not bound to follow Obama's wishes.

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