Note: The full text of the filing is here.
Public Knowledge, Media Access Project, New America Foundation and U.S. PIRG said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs to change how broadband is regulated, because the service is an ‘essential utility’ and not a luxury.
In a filing with the Commission, the groups said any new approach should reflect the failures of the marketplace, which have resulted in minimal competition, and higher rates for lower speeds than in many other industrialized nations. The lack of competition can be traced to the reclassification of high-speed broadband services into Title I.
As a result, proposed a range of options for the Commission to consider, such as: the FCC should reclassify broadband services into Title II; impose structural separations on the offering of wholesale and retail broadband services; impose functional separations or divestiture on the companies offering wholesale and retail broadband services. Local, state or federal government construction of infrastructure can provide a means of enhancing competition and consumer choice, the groups added.
In addition, the FCC should conduct a thorough review of competition and prices in the special access market, with the goal of making certain that incumbents make bandwidth available at reasonable and non-discriminatory rates. The absence of competition for this crucial building-block of the broadband economy makes its regulation necessary.
Outside of the regulatory structure, the groups said the Commission should be guided by the principle that an open Internet should be the foundation of the National Broadband Plan. “The FCC should move quickly to adopt a non-discrimination principle, which will allow the Internet to operate as an open system as it has from the start,” the groups said. Activities such as monitoring Internet connections for copyrighted materials must not be allowed, just as opening of mail is not allowed to be part of a widespread fishing expedition on behalf of a private industry.
The Universal Service Fund and Lifeline programs must be restructured to aid in the deployment of broadband networks. “Broadband, not voice communications, is the ‘must have’ utility of the 21st century, and a broadband plan should address continuing funding needs for upgrades of networks and demand-side outreach and training,” the groups said.
The groups said the time has come to measure progress against goals set by Commissioner Copps in 2005: “Our current experience tells us whatever the flaws of these regulatory alternatives, the current deregulatory environment has utterly failed to produce the residential service or middle mile infrastructure we must have to meet our national broadband needs. The time has come to engage in the assessment called for by then-Commissioner Copps when we adopted deregulation in 2005, and consider the value of other approaches.”
In the wireless area, the groups said spectrum reform is essential, starting with an inventory of what spectrum is being used, and continuing through reallocation of unused spectrum. In addition, the Commission should reimpose spectrum caps, which are necessary to further competition. As part of the spectrum issue, the Commission must make certain consumers have no restrictions on the devices they can use, while examining the anti-competitive aspects of handsets tied to one or two carriers.
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