NCTA: Biden Internet Order Is Misleading Rehash

White House
(Image credit: Future)

Washington communications policy players wasted no time weighing in on President Biden's executive order Friday (July 9) taking aim at consolidation via tougher antitrust enforcement and potential regulation and re-regulation, including cable and telecom broadband providers who slammed the order as a misleading mishmash from some other time, and perhaps universe.

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"We are disappointed that the Executive Order rehashes misleading claims about the broadband marketplace, including the tired and disproven assertion that ISPs would block or throttle consumers from accessing the internet content of their choice," said NCTA-the Internet & Television Association. "America’s broadband networks have been the nation’s most resilient and critical infrastructure during the pandemic, keeping our economy moving and enabling our citizens to learn, work and stay connected from the safety of their homes. As policymakers and industry share the goal of connecting every American to robust and reliable broadband service, we hope the Administration will put the rhetoric aside and focus on constructive solutions.”

Andrew Schwartzman, senior counselor at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, saw it through an entirely different lens. "This is the right agenda, and I know it will garner broad popular support," he said. "The headlines on the tech section will properly focus on net neutrality and antitrust enforcement.  However, the President has also identified important but less visible issues that can provide a huge - and immediate - benefits for many Americans.  I particularly like his emphasis on ending landlords limiting access to a choice of internet providers and on the abusive use of early termination fees to restrict customers from switching to get a better deal."

Unlike NCTA, ACA Connects, which represents smaller cable broadband operators, had no discouraging words for the order.

“ACA Connects -- which represents more than 600 smaller providers of video, broadband, and voice services to more than 11 million customers nationally -- welcomes President Biden’s focus on promoting competition in our economy," said ACAC President Matt Polka. "Every day our members are unfairly leveraged by large video programmers and broadcast station groups, causing our customers’ video rates to soar. 

 “These same members fear that dominant Internet platforms and powerful streaming services may choose not to make their services available to the subscribers of some smaller ISPs. These concerns abound while our members spend billions of dollars annually to upgrade their robust, reliable broadband networks to provide even greater performance in some of the hardest-to-reach areas in the U.S. 

 “We urge the Biden Administration and the Federal Communications Commission to address the competitive issues we raise here, as well as the full spectrum of anticompetitive acts and practices in these sectors.”

USTelecom said of the White House fact sheet: "Unfortunately, when it comes to its comments on broadband, context and facts are largely missing from the Executive Order’s fact sheet....In a year when the cost of most goods and services has been going up, the price of broadband – at all price points – went in the opposite direction. This is a continuation of a years-long, downward trend in broadband prices that coincides with accelerating speeds that have unlocked broadband-fueled innovation across the country. The truth is: more Americans have less expensive, more reliable and better broadband service choices today than they did one year ago."

Among the Biden order proposals was urging the FCC to restore net neutrality rules eliminated under the last administration. That was music to the ears of long-time rules advocate Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). "The COVID pandemic has highlighted what we already knew: broadband isn’t a luxury. Like running water and electricity, it is an essential utility that everyone needs. So I strongly support President Biden’s call for the Federal Communications Commission to reinstate net neutrality," he said. "As soon as there are three Democratic Commissioners in place, the FCC must act without delay to reclassify broadband as a Title II service and reassert its authority over broadband. I also plan to soon introduce legislation to do the same by statute. We cannot and will not stop working until net neutrality is the law of the land.”

The association representing fixed wireless internet service providers, WISPA, praised the effort but had issues with a net neutrality rule return. "WISPA is generally encouraged by today’s Executive Order which seeks to promote competition across all sectors of our economy," WISPA President Claude Aiken said. "Transparency, competition, and consumer-centric practices are hallmarks of community-based ISPs across the nation." But, he added, "a call for the FCC to impose utility-style regulation on ISPs, if adopted, will limit consumer choice and competition in the hardest-to-reach areas of our country."

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The Internet Innovation Alliance took a measured approach. “IIA supports the executive order’s aim of protecting consumers and promoting competition in the American economy," it said. "We do hope, however, that the Biden Administration recognizes the highly-competitive nature of the U.S. broadband industry, which has resulted in our nation having some of the fastest, most resilient networks in the world. Encouraging continued private investment remains critical to U.S. leadership in 5G and beyond.”

“Like President Obama before him, President Biden may have a 'pen and a phone,' and thus can issue Executive Orders until the inkwell runs dry," said Randolph May, president of the Free State Foundation. "But for an executive order to further policies that are proper and that benefit consumers and businesses, it’s important to get the underlying facts straight. The Executive Order sections dealing with the Internet and broadband are sadly lacking, whether because the Biden Administration has willfully ignored facts or has not yet bothered to assemble them. If the EO’s recommendations were to be implemented, the progress realized in the last few years regarding broadband deployment and Internet access likely would be reversed to the detriment of all Americans, especially those currently on the wrong side of remaining digital divides."

INCOMPAS, which represents competitive carriers and some computer companies, brought out the pom-poms.

“Competition is a free market cure that supercharges innovation and investment. Broadband monopolies and limited competition have caused consumers frustration, slowed down internet speeds and driven up prices for families and businesses for far too long," said INCOMPAS President Chip Pickering. "We are pleased to see President Biden take action to stop broadband monopolies in apartments buildings and condo complexes, where 30 percent of Americans live.

"We welcome additional scrutiny of the large ISPs’ practices, as their legacy market power continues to squeeze competition and increase prices for consumers and business customers large and small," Pickering added. "Competition and open internet policies create more opportunities for start-ups and small businesses eager to bring new ideas to global markets.”

"We’re excited to see the admin pushing for the right to repair and FTC rules addressing corporate surveillance and data abuse. It’s also great to see the admin explicitly pushing the FCC to restore net neutrality, but we’re urging Biden to move quickly to nominate a fifth commissioner to the FCC––someone with no ties to the telecom industry––so that that can actually happen," said Fight for the Future. 

“President Biden is decisively pushing back against ever-growing corporate giants, and taking comprehensive action to ensure our growing economy benefits America’s consumers, workers, and small businesses," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.). “Today’s executive actions reflect the urgent need to stem the tide of increasing consolidation and rising monopoly power in our economy. I’ve long called on the FTC and DOJ to not only thoroughly scrutinize new acquisitions and mega mergers, but to also set clear competition rules and conduct a retrospective review to clean up the existing mess. I’m glad the President recognizes this need for bold, aggressive action against Big Tech, health care, pharmaceutical, banking, aviation, and other giant industry mega mergers that hurt consumers, workers, and competition.”

Blumenthal singled out tougher scrutiny of Big Tech mergers and the proposed restoration of the FCC's net neutrality rules. The President can only urge the FCC and FTC, both independent agencies, to take action, but not order it to do so.

“Every American should have high-quality, affordable broadband," said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. "Today’s Executive Order spotlights the values that should drive our work toward that goal: affordability, fairness, competition, innovation, and consumer choice.  The tens of millions of Americans without reliable internet access are counting on us—at the FCC and across the federal government—to fight for a more vibrant and inclusive broadband marketplace.  I applaud President Biden’s sustained focus on these important issues.”

The Consumer Technology Association said that it was fine with focusing on competition, which it said the tech industry was awash in.

"While we appreciate the administration's focus on competition, the tech industry is already vibrantly competitive – domestically and globally," said CTA President Gary Shapiro. "Tech companies are America's top spenders in research and development, our startup ecosystem is strong and new market entrants are thriving and quickly reaching unicorn status. Americans love their tech products, including many that helped keep them safe, healthy and productive throughout the pandemic...

"A government effort presuming ‘big is bad’ or trying to pick marketplace winners and losers will reduce innovation, cost our nation countless jobs and upend the savings and retirement plans of millions of Americans," Shapiro said. 

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.