ISPs, Web Firms Lobby FCC Commissioners as Net Neutrality Deliberations Ramp Up

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By Bryce Baschuk

Sept. 16 — Internet service providers and Web companies directly lobbied Federal Communications Commission officials over the past week in an effort to sway the agency's final net neutrality rules, according to recent filings.

Internet firms like Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and reddit Inc. urged FCC Commissioners in face to face meetings to adopt rules that prohibit paid prioritization deals that permit ISPs to charge content companies fees for prioritized data delivery.

ISPs meanwhile sought to persuade FCC officials that reclassifying broadband Internet services under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 would harm innovation and future deployment of broadband infrastructure.

The meetings took place in the waning days of the comment period for the FCC's Open Internet notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) (GN Docket No. 14-28), a proposal to reinstate net neutrality rules. The FCC is now evaluating the more than 3 million comments it has received on the proposal with the goal of implementing new rules before 2015.

Enforceable Rules

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, met with Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to stress the company's opposition to paid prioritization deals. “Facebook has long supported a free and open Internet that is accessible to people around the world, and urged the FCC to adopt enforceable rules against paid prioritization or the creation of Internet fast lanes, so that the Internet remains an open platform for speech and commerce,” the filing said.

Five Facebook executives, led by Vice President of Public Policy Joel Kaplan, separately met with Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly and urged him to support rules that prohibit paid prioritization agreements.

Three Google executives, including the company's Senior Legal Counsel Staci Pies, met separately with Rosenworcel to talk about the risks of paid prioritization deals. “Allowing broadband Internet access providers to engage in 'paid prioritization' of particular Internet content could create incentives for providers to maintain scarcity and congestion on their networks, in order to sell services that avoid these artificial conditions,” an ex parte filing said.

Craig Barratt, Google's senior vice president of access and energy, said the company's experience deploying and maintaining fiber networks helped it understand that it's “both workable and economically desirable to manage a broadband network without prioritization and consistent with open Internet principles.” Barratt urged Rosenworcel to support rules that will “preserve, for all types of broadband access networks, the standards of nondiscrimination and no-blocking on which the Internet was built.”

Reddit Wouldn't Exist

Ismail Jadun, the international community manager for reddit, told Rosenworcel during a meeting at the company's headquarters that its existence would be threatened if the FCC's current proposal were adopted. “The enormous collection of communities and immense cultural impact of the reddit platform would likely not exist without the de facto net neutrality in place in the last decade and would be threatened by the FCC's Section 706 proposal,” the filing said.

Sally Fineday, the business manager of the Leech Lake Telecommunications Company LLC, told Geoffrey Blackwell, the chief of the FCC's office of native affairs and policy, that paid prioritization deals would harm the company's ability to compete with larger firms, according to an ex parte filing.

Light Touch Rules

Comcast Corp. Senior Vice President of Regulatory and State Legislative Affairs Lynn Charytan met with FCC General Counsel Jon Sallett and officials from the wireline bureau to discuss the potential harms that Title II reclassification could have on the broadband marketplace. “Title II reclassification, apart from the many other harms it would impose on the broadband ecosystem, would not authorize more stringent restrictions on paid prioritization than the type of presumption available under Section 706,” the ex parte filing said.

Reclassification of broadband services under Title II of the Communications Act would give the FCC the express and expansive authority to regulate ISPs as common carriers. Broadband Internet services currently are categorized under Title I of the Communications Act as "information services" that are subject to less stringent regulations.

Charytan separately urged Nick Degani, the wireline legal advisor to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, to avoid Title II reclassification and adhere to the D.C. Circuit Court's guidance in Verizon v. FCC.

Mike Montgomery, the executive director of CALinnovates, a technology advocacy group, met with Rosenworcel and her staff to warn against Title II reclassification. The commission should take steps to clarify that its commercially unreasonable prioritization standard does not “entrench incumbent edge providers at the expense of fair compensation,” the filing said.

AT&T Alternative

AT&T Inc. Senior Executive Vice President Jim Cicconi told Sallett and Ruth Milkman, the chief of staff to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, that the commission should permit user-directed paid prioritization.

Such a proposal could allow consumers to ask their ISPs to prioritize the delivery of certain Internet content services, such as Netflix Inc., over others.

Cicconi said the NPRM's proposed “commercial reasonableness” standard would be sufficient to govern arrangements between ISPs and Internet content providers, the ex parte filing said. “Such an approach would preserve the ability of Internet service providers to engage in individualized negotiations with edge providers for a host of services, while prohibiting the precise practice that has raised ‘fast lane' concerns,” the filing said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at bbaschuk@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at hrothman@bna.com