With the FCC poised to consider a new set of net neutrality rules in February, the next few weeks is expected to see a feverish amount of lobbying for and against the idea of reclassifying broadband like a utility.
Momentum has been building for such an approach ever since President Obama announced his support for reclassification, a moved opposed by major Internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has yet to unveil his latest proposal for net neutrality, but he is expected to circulate his plan in February, with the possibility of a vote later in the month. The FCC’s open meeting that month is on Feb. 26.
Republicans already are vowing to oppose Wheeler if he moves to reclassify the Internet as a Title II common carrier, the same regulatory designation given to phone service. Such a move would put the FCC on a firmer regulatory footing to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against certain types of content, or from offering so-called fast lanes to companies that pay for speedier access to their subscribers.
On Monday, Ken Florance, Netflix’s VP of content delivery, wrote in a company blog post that fast lanes would change the dynamics of the Internet. He wrote that “from a network architecture standpoint, fast lanes aren’t that useful if you’re managing your network effectively. From a marketing perspective, however, they might be quite useful as a way to sell ‘premium’ access to content providers.”
The post, however, also responded to recent suggestions that Netflix is being hypocritical because it uses Internet fast lanes. FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, one of two Republicans on the commission, last month called on the company to explain whether it was seeking its own preferential treatment in the delivery of its traffic, while seeking tough net neutrality rules. He cited reports that Netflix was using its own streaming protocols while refusing to join an alliance that is developing open standards for Internet video.
But Florance denied that Netflix’s approach meant it was using “fast lanes.”
“Netflix and other content providers are not using fast lanes when they connect with an ISP’s last-mile networks,” he wrote. “That is true in cases where we’ve had to make payments as well as when ISPs take advantage of Netflix’s Open Connect Content Delivery Network. Open Connect brings Netflix content to the location of an ISP’s choice, usually at a common Internet exchange or through localized caches. It doesn’t prioritize the data Netflix users have requested. Rather, it makes delivery of it more efficient for us and for the ISP.”
Meanwhile, Google has expressed support for the idea of reclassification, at least if it means that its own broadband service, Google Fiber, will have access to competitors’ utility poles and other infrastructure as it lays down its own lines.
In a letter to the FCC, Google’s Austin Schlick argues that the new regulations should include provisions that already allow cable and telco carriers access to “any pole, duct, conduit, or right-of-way owned or controlled” by a utility. Google has been rolling out its Google Fiber service in Kansas City, Austin and Provo, Utah, but it has been hobbled by the huge cost of installing new poles and conduits.