Commentary

New Broadband Regulations Will Promote Free Speech, Professors Tell FCC

A coalition of academics is urging the Federal Communications Commission to move forward with net neutrality rules that would ban broadband providers from charging companies higher fees for faster delivery of their material.

“We support the adoption of Open Internet rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), including a bright line ban on fees for any kind of preferential treatment,” the letter states. The professors add that net neutrality regulations “would promote competition and other important values such as innovation, free speech, and economic growth.”

The academics, including Columbia Law's Tim Wu (who coined the term net neutrailty), are responding to suggestions that net neutrality rules are unnecessary given that antitrust law already prohibits companies from acting anti-competitively. 

Some observers who oppose new broadband regulations, including lawmakers like Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), have argued that enforcing antitrust rules can prevent ISPs from discriminating against competitors' content. “Antitrust law prosecutes conduct once it occurs, by determining on a case-by-case basis whether parties actually engaged in improper conduct,” Goodlatte stated last year.

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But the pro-net neutrality academics say that regulations will protect open Internet principles more fully than antitrust principles.

“Antitrust law does not protect important non-economic values such as free expression and diversity,” the letter states. “For example, U.S. antitrust law only addresses exclusionary conduct by a broadband Internet access provider against a specific application if the broadband provider itself (or one of its affiliates) participates in the market for that application.”

The professors also say that allowing broadband providers to charge higher fees for faster delivery of traffic will prove harmful. “Even low fees for preferential treatment can chill speech and raise barriers to entry for start-ups, stifling the vibrant experimentation by low-cost innovators that drives innovation on the Internet,” the letter states. “Antitrust enforcement cannot be relied upon to prevent the innovation and speech harms from fees for preferential treatment; an FCC rule prohibiting paid prioritization is required.”

Separately, Google said this week that net neutrality rules won't discourage it from continuing to roll out its 1 GB fiber service. "The sort of open Internet rules that the [Federal Communications Commission] is currently discussing aren't an impediment to those plans," Google told the Washington Post. The company added that the prospect of new rules “didn't impact our decision to invest in Fiber."

Earlier this week, Google said it will launch fiber networks in four additional cities -- Atlanta, Charlotte, Nashville and Raleigh-Durman, N.C.

The FCC is expected to vote next month on new net neutrality rules.

 

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