AT&T: Broadband Plan Achievable Without Title II Classification

Robert Quinn, Senior VP, federal regulatory, for AT&T, told reporters Tuesday that the FCC does not need to redefine broadband as a Title II telecommunications service in order to implement its national broadband plan, particularly its changes to the Universal Service Fund.

That was in a press briefing that followed by hours a press call with the Open Internet Coalition (Google, Sony, Public Knowledge, Free Press) arguing for that classification as necessary for the plan's recommendations. Broadband is currently under the more lightly regulated title I information service category per an FCC decision in 2002.

Both arguments stem from a U.S. Appeals Court decision last week that the FCC had not justified its authority for finding Comcast's network management in violation of its Internet openness guidelines, which it adopted in concert with the Title I classification.

AT&T filed an analysis with the FCC Monday saying it thought the commission still has "all the authority it needs" to migrate the Universal Service Fund from phone to broadband service, for example, said Quinn (that migration is part of the plan), or to implement the online privacy recommendations. "The FCC has all the authority it needs to go out and do the things it has identified in the national broadband plan," he said.

He said suggestions that the court decision could significantly impede the broadband plan were overblown, and that classifying it as a more regulated Title II (common carrier) service would chill investment, which could adversely impact broadband deployment. "I think at a time when we need more than anything else is infrastructure investment, I think it would provide a huge disincentive for entities to invest in this space.

He called Title II classification a "slippery slope" for the FCC, putting it in the position of deciding "which services have enough information in them to be information services at the end of the day, and which don't. And that is a place where the commission has been reluctant to act in the past. I would think that it would chill investment all the way around," he said.

Quinn said, ultimately, Congress may need to step in and clarify the scope of the FCC's broadband oversight, but that in the meantime the FCC has authority over changes to universal service, protecting proprietary customer information online and making broadband accessible to disabilities, for example.

He also suggested the FCC could try to justify its network management regulation using the same statutory underpinnings the court did not reach the merits on, though he did not say whether that is a case it could make. "What the court said is that the commission had to tie its exercise of ancillary jurisdiction to a specific grant of statutory authority that was conferred on it by Congress, and that all the statute sections that the FCC pointed to, the court didn't deal with any of them on the merits either because the FCC was raising it for the first time on appeal, or because they had changed the argument from the order to the appeal."

He said, that, as a result, "the path is clear for the FCC to restate those arguments if that is what they chose to do."

Quinn said AT&T would continue to abide by the FCC's existing openness principles.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.