Mozilla Net Neutrality Compromise Takes Fire From Both Sides

If FCC chairman Tom Wheeler is floating the idea of a hybrid Title II/Sec. 706 network neutrality regime to gauge the reaction from Title II fans and foes, he was getting it Friday. Neither side seemed happy with that alternative.

Following stories, including at B&C/Multichannel News, that the FCC was considering the approach, proposed by Mozilla, to separate the ISP/edge provider access service from the ISP/last mile customer access service and classify the first under Title II, the reaction was swift, and far from laudatory.

"King Solomon wasn’t serious when he proposed splitting the baby. Let’s hope Chairman Wheeler isn’t either. Subjecting any part of broadband to Title II opens the door to FCC regulation of the heart of the Internet," said TechFreedom president Berin Szoka in a statement titled "There's No Middle Ground on Title II."

On the other side, the rhetoric was equally tough., a Title II or bust net neutrality backer, saw it as a bust, saying the proposal betrayed President Obama's call for network neutrality by allowing broadband providers to cut deals with content companies for special access to customers. The Mozilla proposal would still allow for paid prioritization, but would make it presumptively a rule violation and erect a high bar for overcoming that presumption. Mozilla would also prefer a straight Title II reclassification, but offered up the alternative as a possible compromise, though it was not sounding like one given the reactions.

"It’s puzzling why Wheeler would pursue this path when there’s a legally sound approach available to him—clear Title II reclassification—that’s supported by millions of Internet users, mom and pop business owners, entrepreneurs, artists, and business leaders," said civic action executive director Anna Galland.

Title II backer Fight for the Future was in a fighting mood, saying Wheeler should be canned if the FCC can't see its way to imposing Title II.

"Net neutrality activists are furious about the so-called 'hybrid' proposal that the WSJ reported the FCC is moving towards," said campaign director Evan Greer. "Today in response, Fight for the Future delivered more than 75,000 signatures to President Obama calling for him to publicly support Title II reclassification and replace Tom Wheeler if he won’t."

The President said earlier this month that tiered Internet service should not be allowed, and he expected the FCC to insure that it did not happen. "I know one of the things that people are most concerned about is paid prioritization, the notion that somehow some folks can pay a little more money and get better service, more exclusive access to customers through the Internet," he said at a California town hall meeting on innovation Oct. 10. "That's something I’m opposed [to]. I was opposed to it when I ran. I continue to be opposed to it now."

“We appreciate the effort the FCC has put into devising new rules to preserve an open Internet for content creators and innovators," said the Future of Music Coalition. "However, net neutrality advocates care less about how slick the rules are, and more about whether they’ll stand up in court. “Because last time they didn’t....We don’t want clever net neutrality. We want real net neutrality.”

"Our Petition focused on the question of where the FCC derives its authority," blogged Chris Riley, Mozilla senior policy engineer. "We told the FCC we support both hybrid classification proposals and reclassification, and, choosing between the two, we prefer reclassification as the simplest, cleanest path forward. But we believe both paths would allow the FCC to adopt the same strong rules to protect the open Internet, and survive court review."

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.