Telecoms often argue that Net neutrality rules will discourage investment in broadband networks. But a coalition of Web companies including Google, Netflix and Twitter contend that the precise opposite is true.
Broadband investment "would be significantly hampered" if providers "lessen demand for the Internet experience by cherry-picking favorites," the Open Internet Coalition argues in a brief filed late last week with an appeals court in Washington.
The Open Internet Coalition, along with digital rights group Public Knowledge and other organizations, filed papers asking a federal appellate court to uphold the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules. Those regulations, which took effect last year, ban all broadband providers from blocking sites or competing applications. They also prohibit wireline providers from engaging in unreasonable discrimination.
Verizon and MetroPCS are challenging the regulations in the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The telecoms contend that the FCC lacks authority to regulate broadband. The two companies point out that the appeals court already ruled -- in a case involving Comcast -- that the FCC can't regulate Internet service providers. That decision was based on the fact that the FCC classifies broadband as a Title I "information" service, and not a Title II telecommunications service.
But the Open Internet Coalition contends that the FCC's authority for the rules comes from other sections of the Telecommunications Act, including a provision dealing with broadband investment. Specifically, the groups point to Section 706, which tasks the FCC with encouraging broadband Internet services through a variety of measures -- including, critically, passing regulations that "remove barriers to infrastructure investment."
The groups argue that the neutrality regulations will lead to more infrastructure investment. Their theory: Neutrality rules will encourage content companies to make more material available online, because the rules ensure that consumers will be able to access that content. The resulting growth in available online content will in turn fuel consumer demand for high-speed Web services.
"Purchasers of broadband access are not interested in empty pipes," the groups argue. "They pay Verizon or MetroPCS to access today’s multifarious Internet content, as well as to communicate their own ideas and information."
The Open Internet Coalition says that tech companies and consumers will be harmed if the appeals court throws out the regulations. "If a provider decides to discriminate against certain content or ban it altogether, perhaps because it favors its own content, the losers will be standing on both sides of the broadband access gate," the group argues. "On the one side, consumers would be deprived of their choice in content as well as the ability to disseminate their own materials... On the other, content providers would be deprived of an opportunity to reach the audience of their choice."