Editorial: II-Edged Sword

Here is one of our main beefs with the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband as a Title II telecom service. It essentially equates giant edge providers, such as Google and Netflix, with broadband subscribers as the two endangered parts of the virtuous Internet cycle in need of protection from ISPs—presumed to be the big bad behemoths ready to pounce on their defenseless prey.

Google, which Federal Trade Commission staffers apparently concluded was anticompetitive before the FTC decided to conclude otherwise, is no more a garage innovator than Comcast is a little system in Tupelo, Miss. And Netflix dwarfs other video suppliers.

The FCC’s conclusion, hammered home by chairman Tom Wheeler’s anti- ISP rhetoric, is that the Internet is so pervasive that, irrespective of how ISPs got to be so powerful—by investing billions in their networks before the return was clear—they now have the incentive and opportunity for anticompetitive conduct and need close watching.

Perhaps, but one cannot defend the need for a paradigm shift requiring regulations to anticipate conduct not in evidence, while not also suggesting that the edge bears close watching as well.

If broadband’s pervasiveness and importance has driven that FCC concern, then why does there seem to be so little concern—at least in the FCC’s 332-page open Internet order—about the potential of the edge to be anticompetitive? For example, if you’re not on the first page of Google, you might as well be a tree falling in an empty woods.

There have been suggestions that the FCC’s order was adjusted at the last minute to accommodate the search giant’s dislike of the commission’s initial hybrid approach to Title II. But of course that could not have been thanks to powerful lobbyists trying to shape an FCC decision to their own ends, right? That is the province of “evil” ISPs.