TR Daily Dem Lawmakers, Public Interest Groups Urge Return to Title II
Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Dem Lawmakers, Public Interest Groups Urge Return to Title II

Democratic members of Congress and a range of net neutrality supporters today argued for restoring FCC authority over broadband Internet access services (BIAS) through regulatory reclassification of those services.

During a congressional briefing organized by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, Free Press, Consumer Reports, and several other organizations, Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) said, "The pandemic has highlighted what we already knew. Broadband is not a luxury. It is essential."

He said that when he was in the House in 1996 working on the Telecommunications Act, "we intended it to be applicable to changing communications landscape on a technologically neutral basis."

He said that BIAS is a telecommunications service, which would make it subject to common carrier regulation under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, as amended.

As for net neutrality, Sen. Markey said it is "just another way of saying nondiscrimination" and that it is "also a civil rights issue" in that it provides for free expression for online activism.

"It’s also about making sure we have a cop on the beat," he said.

"Once we have three Democrats on the FCC," he said he would urge the agency to reverse the restoring Internet freedom (RIF) order passed by a Republican-majority FCC in 2017 to classify BIAS as a telecommunications service and eliminate most of the open Internet rules established in 2015 under a Democratic-majority FCC. "And in the next few weeks I’m going to introduce a bill to do the same by statute," he added.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D., Pa.), the chairman of the House communications and technology subcommittee, said that the pandemic experience has demonstrated the value of broadband-enabled tools like telework, remote learning, and telehealth.

During the panel discussion following the lawmakers’ remarks, Yosef Getachew, director–media and democracy program at Common Cause, said that an agency is needed that has the authority to investigate cases of excessive price increases, digital redlining, and private violations, among other things.

Public Knowledge Senior Vice President Harold Feld said that "Title II deals with the nuts and bolts of everyday life in broadband. Who gets the service? … What about cutoffs?" He added that "reliability issues, for example, are something that is critical in Title II." He pointed out that there was outage reporting for landline and cellphones during the recent Texas power failures, but "nobody knows for sure" about stand-alone broadband services, which aren’t subject to mandatory outage reporting.

Similarly, "we don’t know" how many people had their broadband service shut off during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FCC is limited to voluntary information collection when it comes to broadband pricing, Mr. Feld said.

Baltimore City Councilmember Zeke Cohen said that "we still live in a nation that treats the Internet as a private luxury instead of the public utility we all know it is."

He said that during the past year, the city and local students confronted Comcast Corp. over its 25 megabits per second downstream/3 Mbps upstream discounted Internet Essentials service, saying that it was often too slow for video conferencing for classes, but Comcast "refused to come to the table" and "refused to provide data" about its service.

"To add insult to injury, Comcast introduced its data caps," Mr. Cohen said. "We asked our attorney general to investigate" the institution of the caps as a predatory price increase, and "we were glad to see Comcast backed off from its data caps," he said. "They’re now going to be introduced in 2022. That is still unacceptable," he added.

"Cities like Baltimore are at an asymmetric disadvantage when they negotiate with big providers like Comcast. That’s why we need net neutrality," Mr. Cohen added.

Janice Gates, director for the Equitable Internet Initiative at the Detroit Community Technology Project, said that although Comcast "just announced delaying data caps in the northeast, … Michigan is one of the states where Comcast already had data caps in place."

In response to an audience question about how the FCC might have been able to better respond to the pandemic if it had had Title II authority over BIAS providers, Mr. Getachew said that the FCC was only able last spring to ask for voluntary commitments to not disconnect consumers for nonpayment related to the pandemic’s financial effects and other commitments that were part of then Chairman Ajit Pai’s Keep Americans Connected pledge. Consequently, adherence by providers varied, as did their approach to conducting outreach to customers.

Asked why there haven’t been "more stories" like the problems that beset the Santa Clara County (Calif.) Fire Department when it hit a cap on its "unlimited" Verizon mobile data plan, "while it was in the middle of fighting the Mendocino Complex fire, the largest in our state’s history, Danielle Goldstein, former deputy county counsel for Santa Clara County, now deputy city attorney for Los Angeles (participating in their personal capacity), said, "I’m not sure that we haven’t. … If the ISP [Internet service provider] hadn’t emailed us to tell us exactly what was happening, I’m not sure that we would have even known. … We can’t rely on altruism to keep our communities safe and protected." —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]

MainStory: FederalNews MarylandNews CaliforniaNews MichiganNews NetNeutrality FCC Congress

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