This is the first in a series of net neutrality posts that will address fundamental questions presented by the prospect of applying per se net neutrality rules under Title II.
There is more at stake than net neutrality in the reclassification debate at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Imposing per se prohibitions against business-to-business arrangements involving ‘paid prioritization’ under Title II would be a radical departure from the core principles embodied in our communications laws. Yet the nature of this departure and its predictable consequences have received little attention thus far. That must change.
By its own logic, the theory of ‘gatekeeper control’ the FCC relied on to justify its imposition of per se net neutrality rules extends to any Internet intermediary that is capable of blocking, degrading, or favoring particular Internet services, applications, or content. If the FCC were to apply this theory under Title II, it would be required to impose net neutrality obligations on a host of Internet companies that have not been subject to common carrier regulation, including Google, Apple, and Netflix.
Summary of Regulatory Theories Governing Communications
A brief review of the prevailing theories of communications regulation in different eras is helpful in understanding why many companies that are considered ‘edge’ providers today would inevitably be subject to common carrier regulation if the FCC imposes per se net neutrality regulations under Title II. These theories are either embodied in the Communications Act or, with respect to net neutrality, in an FCC order.
Natural Monopoly Era. The Communications Act of 1934 presumed that telephone service was a natural monopoly. As implemented by the FCC, the 1934 Act subsidized uniformly low rates for residential telephone service through tariff filings.
Competitive Era. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 presumes that removing barriers to entry enables competition among communications services and envisions an era in which market-based competition completely supplants Title II regulation as the means of protecting consumers. The 1996 Act promotes competition and reduces regulation by removing barriers to entry.
Net Neutrality Era. The Open Internet Order presumes that Internet companies must have ‘neutral’ access to all end users on all Internet platforms at all times in order to survive, irrespective of competition. Per se net neutrality rules regulate gatekeepers in order to subsidize access to end users for upstream Internet companies, who are presumed to pass their resulting benefits on to all end users. Read More
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