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'Tech Elders' Urge Title II Rollback

Some internet pioneers held a press conference Wednesday to take aim at the FCC's Title II reclassification and support FCC chairman Ajit Pai's efforts to roll it back. 

That came as Pai was preparing to talk Wednesday about how to regulate net neutrality going forward, almost certainly without that Title II classification approved by the Democratic commissioners and his predecessor Tom Wheeler.

On the press call were so-called "Tech Elders" assembled by Daniel Berninger, founder of VoIP service VCXC, who challenged the FCC's Open Internet regs. They generally favored no Internet regulation at all, saying that was how it had grown and prospered, at least until the government stepped in.

Berninger said the internet developed as a "not the phone" network, with different services, until it started to have the same services—like VoIP—and the debate began on regulating it, until 2004, when the FCC decided it should not be regulated—subject to mandatory access provisions like the telecoms.

But he said that ginned-up discrimination issue led to the 2015 order to regulate internet access like a common carrier.

The "elders" on the call were solidly behind any effort to nullify the Title II designation and "restore the long-standing information services and non-regulated status of the Internet." 

Berninger argues that the notion of internet discrimination was an invented concept, that the internet was thriving before the FCC decided it needed to step in and apply phone-style regs, and that—quoting Electronic Frontier Foundation cofounder John Perry Barlow [EFF is actually on the other side of the issue from the 'elders'], who was also on the call—"Declaring the Internet and the telephone network to be the same thing is like declaring a Buick and a symphony to be the same thing because they both make noise." Barlow is a one-time lyricist for the Grateful Dead. 

Vonage cofounder Jeff Pulver was among those on the call—it was a VoIP-heavy group particularly concerned about the ban on paid prioritization applied to Internet voice because it impedes their ability to offer HD voice because "latency, jitter and packet loss in the transmission of a communication will threaten voice quality and destroy the value proposition of an HD service." 

Pulver said he had been involved in the "unregulation" of the internet since 1995, and that it was the big phone companies that wanted the internet regulated. He praised the Powell FCC for ruling back in 2004 that his internet voice service, Free World Dialup, was an unregulated information service. 

Barlow said he wanted network neutrality as much as the next person—actually he said "your grandmother"—but did not want that job turned over to the FCC.

(Photo via Rock1997Image taken on Jan. 18, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

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.