The wireless industry reacted with caution today to the FCC’s unanimous vote to move forward with net neutrality regulation. Overall, most expressed general support for the principle of open Internet access but remained wary of regulations that could threaten network performance.
In a statement, CTIA President and CEO Steve Largent said he was pleased that the FCC acknowledged that wireless was substantially different from other delivery methods but expressed considerable reservations about possible net neutrality regulations.
Specifically, Largent warned that such regulation could have “significant unintended consequences” on innovation.
“… whatever the case may be for applying rules to other platforms, applying these rules to mobile wireless broadband services during a period of dynamic innovation and change in the wireless ecosystem could have significant unintended consequences,” Largent said in a statement.
“Rules that could impact the ecosystem from continuing to evolve, such as the ability of wireless carriers, device makers and applications developers to optimize their devices, applications and networks to work together will stifle innovation and harm consumers.”
He also said the imposition of net neutrality rules would degrade the value of recently purchased spectrum licenses and threaten the integrity of the auction process.
“The FCC considered ‘openness’ requirements in the 700 MHz auction and chose to apply those requirements to a single block of spectrum,” he said. “To extend that requirement, and more, now would raise serious legal issues and threaten the integrity of future auctions.”
Sprint Nextel’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Vonya McCann echoed Largent’s concerns. In a statement, McCann said that while the carrier shares the FCC’s “laudable” goal of ensuring open Internet access, net neutrality regulation could harm network performance.
“The challenge [will] be ensuring that any proposed rules achieve this goal without creating unintended consequences or clogged networks,” she said, adding that Sprint was “pleased” with the commission’s “holistic approach” to wireless carriers’ network management practices.
Verizon Wireless and its parent company Verizon Communications offered subtly different responses to the news in separately issued statements. Both divisions argued that such regulation is unnecessary, with Verizon Wireless stating that there is “no evidence of a problem today” and “no basis for new rules.”
Similarly, Verizon Communications said that it was “concerned” that the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking implied that there is a need to further regulate the Internet.
“After listening carefully to comments from all of the advocates of regulation, one thing remains clear: The Internet ecosystem is serving consumers very well, and there is no problem that requires new government regulation,” said Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications.
Verizon Wireless’ joint statement with Google yesterday on the issue of net neutrality hinted at a more liberal approach than that of its parent.
Together, the companies said it was “obvious” that users should continue to have the final say about their Web experience, from the networks and software they use, to the hardware they plug in to the Internet and the services they access online.
To that end, the companies recommended that the FCC should establish that its existing wireline broadband principles are enforceable across other mediums, but implemented on a case-by-case basis.
Following on that, the companies warned of over regulation. “Policymakers sometimes fall prey to the temptation to write overly detailed rules, attempting to predict every possible scenario and address every possible concern,” said Google and Verizon. “This can have unintended consequences.”
Finally, the companies also called for transparency around service offerings and regulatory flexibility that would allow broadband providers to manage their networks to deal with issues like traffic congestion, spam and denial of service attacks.
Ultimately, however, Google and Verizon differed on one basic point: whether or not the need for regulation actually exists. “While Verizon… believes that there is no evidence of a problem today… [Google] believes that safeguards are needed to combat the incentives for carriers to pick winners and losers online.”