Title II Gets Texas-Sized Vetting

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said the FCC shouldn't be hiding in the nation's capital on the issue of new network neutrality rules.

That came in opening remarks for Pai's field hearing on that issue Oct. 21 in College Station, Texas.

He said he was disappointed his other colleagues were not there, but his fellow Republican commissioner Michael O'Rielly sent a letter saying he wished he could be there but had to attend the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, Korea, per a previous commitment.

Panelists at the forum included free market fans like Donna Nelson, chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas, who said that regulating broadband under Title II would be moving backward and create barriers to entry.

And Joe Portman, president of Alamo Broadband, a fixed wireless broadband provider, who said regulating his business under Title II would be "pretty much a terrible idea borne of good intentions." He said among the unintended consequences that could result include disclosure requirements whose costs his business could not bear; and ISP trolling—like patent trolling—for ISPs in violation for new regs.

But unlike a field forum in California hosted by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) last month, where only Title II fans weighed in, the Texas panel included divergent opinions.

Edward Henigin, chief technology officer of Data Foundry, spoke up strongly for Title II and imposing common carrier and open access regs on ISPs, which he slammed as among the worst in the developed world.

According to Public Knowledge, which backs strong network neutrality rules, dozens of participants in a net neutrality rally organized before the event attended the forum and made their voices heard.

“On very short notice dozens of people traveled hundreds of miles to speak out in favor of real Net Neutrality protections," said Free Press field director Mary Alice Crim. "It’s clear from the Texas hearing that the strongest public cheers and comments were for Title II — the only law that lets the FCC prevent Internet service providers from interfering with user content and discriminating against websites and online services."

Pai, not fan of Title II, still drew praise for the effort to get outside the Beltway.

“While we often disagree with his positions, we applaud Commissioner Pai for convening this important discussion outside of Washington, D.C. We remain concerned about Chairman Tom Wheeler's continued reluctance to host the same kinds of open discussions outside the Beltway."

Wheeler has pointed out that a series of net neutrality forums hosted at the FCC were open to participation nationwide—and even worldwide—through the very technology—broadband—whose openness and accessibility are at issue in the rules. He has suggested he did not think the FCC had to be physically present in remote locations to be accessible.

Also at the pre-event rally were members of the Media Action Grassroots Network, which argued that "the only way to protect Latinos and communities of color from discrimination on the Internet is through Title II."

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.