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CEOs to FCC: Take Title II Off Table

CEOs Brian Roberts of Comcast, Robert Marcus of Time Warner Cable, Lowell McAdam of Verizon and Randall Stephenson of AT&T, joined two dozen more ISP CEOs to tell the FCC not to "reclassify" broadband as a Title II service.

In a letter to the FCC Tuesday, they urged the chairman and commissioners to maintain a "light touch" in regulating Internet access, hoping to counter what they call a "concerted publicity campaign" by some advocacy groups that "conflates the need for an open Internet with the purported need to reclassify broadband Internet access services as Title II telecommunications services subject to common carrier regulation."

Tech companies and advocacy groups argue that anything short of Title II will not sufficiently protect consumers from discrimination by ISPs. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing disallowing paid priority unless it can be proved not to be illegal discrimination, and supporting that with existing Sec. 706 authority that allows for regulations to insure advanced telecommunications is deployed to all Americans.

His approach is to take a case-by-case basis to discrimination and to disallow it where it is used to disadvantage consumers or competition, since that could impede broadband deployment and use.

Echoing a growing theme, the CEAs say that classifying ISPs under Title II would not even prevent the paid prioritization that has become a hot button issue for critics who see that as an on-ramp to a bifurcated info highway of slow and fast lanes.

"Not only is it questionable that the Commission could defensibly reclassify broadband service under Title II, but also such an action would greatly distort the future development of, and investment in, tomorrow’s broadband networks and services."

Additional CEOs on the letter read like a National Cable & Telecommunications Association Who's Who, including Patrick Esser of Cox, Tom Rutledge of Charter, Glen Post of CenturyLink, Steve Miron of Bright House, Brian Sweeney of Cablevision, and Rocco Commisso of Mediacom.

Wheeler's proposal is in essence an effort to restore the previous rules, which NCTA did not oppose, but in such a way that the court will approve them this time around.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the draft rules May 15. The chairman has already updated that draft to make it clear that Title II is being considered, though Sec. 706 is his first option, and that paid priority will be presumptively illegal unless a case can be made for it on an individual basis. That is essentially what he signaled all along, but when the original draft leaked, the fact that it might allow for paid prioritization under any circumstances, even case-by-case, drew immediate flak from open Internet advocates.