Commentary

AT&T Slams FCC's 'False Trichotomy'

The Federal Communications Commission's so-called "third way" for broadband -- a plan to reclassify broadband access, but not other components of the Internet, as a telecommunications service -- drew a flurry of last-minute endorsements and opposition this week.

The plan, which is seen as the first step towards net neutrality regulations, was enthusiastically praised by Google. Of course, Google has always supported neutrality principles that would prohibit Internet service providers from degrading traffic to the site. But Google has an additional reason for backing the third way: the proposal squelches the idea that neutrality rules would apply to content providers such as itself.

"Such a tailored approach," Google said of the proposal, "would subject only the transmission component of broadband Internet service to a small but critical subset of the provisions of the Communications Act."

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Google adds: "This approach also would clarify that Internet-based content, applications, and services remain unregulated by the FCC."

Internet service providers, on the other hand, said they disapprove of the plan. Comcast said the plan "would be contrary to both fact and law" as well as "dangerous public policy."

AT&T added that the proposed reclassification "would be a sledgehammer, not a scalpel." The telecom giant also took issue with the premise that the FCC has only three choices regarding broadband: continue to classify broadband as an "information" service, recategorize everything related to the Internet as a "telecommunications" service, or pursue a "third way" by reclassifying only broadband access as a telecommunications service.

"This false trichotomy overlooks the best way forward: maintaining the regulatory status quo while seizing this uniquely auspicious opportunity to work with Congress in updating the Communications Act for the broadband era," AT&T wrote.

FCC chair Julius Genachowski proposed the "third way" after an appellate court ruled in April that the commission couldn't sanction Comcast for violating neutrality principles because broadband is classified as an information service.

The plan also includes a promise to avoid many of the regulations applicable to telephone companies, including ones related to pricing. That component of the proposal seemed to trouble advocacy group Public Knowledge, long a supporter of neutrality regulations. "It would be tragic if the Commission invested time and effort in properly reclassifying broadband in order to ensure an appropriate framework to protect the public only to find, when a crisis arose, that it had eliminated its authority through an imprudent forbearance," the group said.

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