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Title II's Full-‘Throttle’ History

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On June 12, the Federal Communications Commission was empowered to start enforcing its new Title II-based network-neutrality rules after a federal court denied a last-minute stay request.

That raised the question of how “throttling” became the term of art for what was referred to as “unreasonable discrimination” in the FCC’s 2010 order, and what’s been referred to generally as “degrading” — as in “no blocking or degrading or paid prioritization” — in network-neutrality debate parlance.

The migration from “unreasonable discrimination” made sense because the court frowned on the language, but “degrading” didn’t appear to have been undercut as a catch-all.

The term “throttling” has always been around, said Tim Karr, senior director of strategy at Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Free Press and a veteran of the network-neutrality wars. “[W]e have used all of these terms throughout the history of this debate, using whichever is more appropriate in describing a particular circumstance,” Karr said.

But throttling’s stock has clearly risen since the first 2010 net-neutrality order.

No lesser a net-neutrality term-of-art aficionado than Public Knowledge’s Harold Feld — who, like Karr, has been a net-neutrality proponent for years — pronounced it a “good question.” That provided just the sort of positive reinforcement that has driven investigative journalists to pursue such semantic conundrums as why advertisers think they can hide their “sales” behind the pretentious cloak of “savings event.” But we digress.

Feld said he thinks it dates from the reaction to wireless carriers’ usage plans — wireless broadband is now regulated under the net-neutrality rules, so it would make sense for the catch-all phrase to have morphed as well.

“I think it came up when the wireless carriers started throttling unlimited plans when they went over some undefined ‘cap,’ ” Feld told Multichannel News. “The idea was that ‘throttling’ was different from degrading because [throttling] just reduced overall speed/capacity rather than actually disrupting the transmission, as Comcast did with BitTorrent.”

One cable veteran thought the transition point was when FCC chairman Tom Wheeler got so much pushback on the “commercial reasonableness” standard that the FCC “needed something else besides ‘no blocking.’ ”

Whatever you call it, cable operators wish the definition excluded Title II.