By Joyce Carroll
Special to Delaware Business Times
Not long after the sun has set on Super Bowl XLIX, a political football will be tossed onto the field. Net neutrality, the year’s first hot-button issue causing ire among the newly seated Congress, faces a critical FCC vote on Feb. 26.
Net neutrality’s fundamental principle is equal access to the Internet. While, at face value, the battle pits big government against corporate America, the pending vote has far-reaching implications. Most notably, it could result in reclassifying the Internet as a utility for regulatory purposes.
Not only are the nation’s two largest broadband providers watching, but smaller Internet-service providers, technology gurus and consumers are, as well. Since hosting roundtable discussions last year, the FCC has received nearly four million comments from individuals with a vested interest.
Proponents of regulation argue that industry giants Comcast and Verizon can increase fees for edge providers that utilize a larger share of Internet capacity—Netflix, YouTube and BitTorrent among them—and they worry that speed, access and content could become compromised for end users.
Opponents worry about overregulation and the negative impact on growth in a field where technological advances are a part of the everyday landscape.
The FCC asserts that net neutrality should insure transparent policy disclosure by fixed and mobile broadband providers; prevent fixed and mobile broadband providers from blocking legal content, applications and services; and prevent fixed broadband providers from discriminating against legal Internet traffic. Both Comcast, in 2010, and Verizon, in 2013, have challenged the restrictions in court.
Last January, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the FCC with regard to its ability to regulate broadband under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, but failed to give the FCC requested teeth. Last fall, President Obama entered the fray, urging the FCC to reclassify the Internet as a public utility.
“Either way there are going to be court challenges,” said Herb Mondros, a partner with Margolis Edelstein in Wilmington. Mondros specializes in commercial and corporate civil litigation. He added, “The new GOP-led legislature may try and pre-empt the FCC with a legislative initiative over a regulatory one, but it’s hard to see how any such legislation could pass both houses and be signed by the president before February.”
Interest hit a groundswell Congress’s first week back in session. The national and international news media, from the Wall Street Journal to Reuters, was abuzz with speculation and analysis. The possibility of reclassification under Title II became more telling amid comments made by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 7.
Movers and shakers in the state’s technology field are weighing in. Rick Sommer, CEO of Intellitec Solutions in Wilmington, said broadband providers should have the ability to charge content providers higher fees based upon bandwidth usage. He points to turnpike travel as an example. “All cars are paying the same toll, but the tractor trailers are paying a higher fee.”
Vince Borrelli, director of operations for Diamond Technologies in Wilmington, and Steve Worden, chief technology officer for Bayshore Transportation Systems in Newark, said the marketplace offers the best solution.
“Free enterprise reliance usually works. The market will take care of itself,” Borrelli said.
Worden said some oversight, however, is not a bad thing, particularly with regard to the last mile interface, where a competitor may have the ability to interfere with the delivery process should it recognize the origin of the data. It is at that juncture where Internet speed may become compromised. Still, regulating a communication vehicle as dynamic as the Internet is not the answer, Worden said. “I think there’s
a natural response that the market will give. The market is the bigger driver,” he said, adding, “Technology moves too fast to be regulated.”