AT&T: Title II Would Not Prevent Paid Prioritization

With renewed calls for Title II classification of Internet access, AT&T was looking to defuse what many have called the nuclear option.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed using Sec. 706 authority to buttress the rules. That is the statutory authority the FCC interprets as giving it the regulatory levers to speed deployment of advanced telecommunications if it is not being deployed in a reasonable and timely fashion.

ISPs argue the rules are not needed, but are at least OK with that approach compared to classifying ISP access as a common carrier service.

AT&T execs met with FCC staffers this week to argue that Title II was a route to harms that would "dwarf" any supposed benefits as well as "all but scuttle the administration’s ambitious broadband agenda."

AT&T also said it would not result in preventing paid prioritization, which is the hot-button that has put Title II on the lips of public advocacy groups, computer company execs and some legislators.

"Title II does not require that all customers be treated the same as reclassification proponents seem to believe," said AT&T. "Rather, by its express terms, Title II prohibits only “unjust and unreasonable” discrimination, and it is well established that Title II carriers may offer different pricing, different service quality, and different service quality guarantees."

As a Title II service, AT&T says--and it knows a bit about common carrier regs--"broadband Internet access providers could be entitled to receive transport and termination fees" and would have to assess universal service fees that are passed on to customers in the form of an Internet tax.

"In this regard, any attempt to confine Title II reclassification to owners of last-mile transmission facilities [like cable operators] would crash headlong into the statutory language, Supreme Court precedent, and 75 years of Title II jurisprudence," AT&T said. "The classification of any provider as a Title II “common carrier” has never depended on whether the provider owns transmission facilities, let alone last-mile facilities. That is why standalone long-distance telephone companies, such as the legacy AT&T Corp., MCI, and Sprint, were always treated as Title II carriers even though they depended on local exchange carriers."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said that he may go the Title II route if he has to  preserve network neutrality rules.

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.