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Some Diversity Groups Diverge Over Net Neutrality

Over three dozen diversity groups have told the FCC that the current proposal to use Sec. 706 authority to restore network neutrality rules is the way to go, while a handful of groups calling themselves the "new generation of civil rights leaders" appears just as convinced that the FCC needs to reclassify ISP's under Title II common carrier rules to close the digital divide.

In one corner was Rainbow PUSH, the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council, some familiar MMTC diversity initiative supporters, and, in a separate filing, the NAACP, all advocating for Sec. 706.

MMTC and its coalition partners say Sec. 706 would be a sufficiently robust and legally enforceable means for achieving their goals for communities of color, which is to prevent digital redlining and insure them "first-class digital citizenship." The coalition said a big advantage of Sec. 706 is that it will "will maintain a critical baseline level of regulatory certainty by preserving the current, bipartisan approach to regulating broadband communications..."

By contrast, they argue, reclassifying broadband under Title II would introduce "unnecessary uncertainty" into the process and by discouraging investment and undermining adoption.

They also argue that reclassification would require a "separate, lengthy rulemaking that would yield an order that would in all probably be immediately challenged in court by many different parties and on many different legal bases."

NAACP says the court supplied the FCC with that Sec. 706 blueprint when it remanded the anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules back to the commission for better legal justification of the 2010 rules, which it points out have been working.

There is no guarantee a Sec. 706 approach won't wind up in court, but most ISP's are on the record in support of that approach and, they point out, have already made enforceable pledges to that effect in network management transparency requirements still on the books from the FCC's original Open Internet order back in 2010. In addition, Comcast is subject to the old rules into 2018, and that could be lengthened and extended to Time Warner Cable if the FCC approves the deal and makes that a condition.

In the other corner are National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC),,, joined by long-time Title II fans Free Press and the Voices For Internet Freedom. They argue that Sec. 706 would "destroy" the Internet as we know it and that Title II is the only way to prevent ISP's from "blocking and discriminating against content, exacerbating the digital divide.

The Voices/NHMC filing urged the FCC to "to reclassify Internet access service as a telecommunications service so that Open Internet rules are grounded in the firm authority granted to the Commission in Title II of the Communications Act." They also said the rules should be extended to mobile as well as fixed wireless. The FCC has tentatively concluded that wireless is sufficiently different in terms of network management that the rules should not extend to them.

They also argue that using Title II to insure an open Internet will not discourage investment or slow adoption.

"Purveyors of this theory tend to rely on unsupported statements and hypothetical situations, and seem to ignore the fact that communications services, and some Internet access services in particular, have been and continue to be regulated under Title II with no evidence of negative repercussions."

The official comment deadline on the FCC proposal was Monday (Sept. 15), but the FCC will continue to accept input.

No word on when the FCC will come up with final rules, but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has told B&C/Multichannel News he is not setting a hard and fast deadline of the end of the year.