Broadband providers recently asked the Federal Communications Commission to stay a portion of its historic decision to impose net neutrality rules. Should the FCC grant that request, consumers could once again have trouble streaming video online. At least that's the suggestion made by Cogent Communications, which on Thursday asked the FCC to reject the request for a stay.
Cogent is a large U.S.-based Web transit provider, meaning that it distributes traffic for content providers like Netflix to ISPs like Time Warner. When Netflix users had trouble accessing streams of the company's video in 2013 and 2014, the choppy streams were largely due to congestion at interconnection points between transit providers and ISPs. (Netflix eventually resolved the problem by forging deals to interconnect directly with the four largest ISPs' servers.)
Cogent now says that staying the net neutrality order would effectively allow ISPs to manipulate interconnection strategies in order to create the kind of congestion that leads to choppy, unwatchable video streams.
“Such a result would undermine the very principles that motivated the Open Internet Order,” Cogent argues in its latest filing.
In February, the FCC voted to enact sweeping broadband regulations. The agency reclassified broadband access as a utility, and then imposed new rules that prohibit Internet service providers from blocking or degrading traffic and from creating paid fast lanes.
The agency also created a “general conduct” standard, which broadly prohibits ISPs from unreasonably impeding consumers and content providers from reaching each other. The FCC said it will take a case-by-case approach to deciding whether interconnection deals violate that standard.
Last Friday, the trade groups USTelecom, CTIA-the Wireless Association and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, as well as AT&T and CenturyLink, asked the FCC to stay the portion of its order that reclassifies broadband as a utility service, as well as the general conduct provision, but not the so-called “bright-line” prohibitions on blocking, degrading or paid prioritization.
But Cogent argues that the “general conduct” standard offers a critical check on broadband providers' power.
“Petitioners soft pedal the import of their petitions by omitting from their stay requests the Commission's bright-line rules,” Cogent argues. “The Commission should take no comfort in petitioners' superficial embrace of these net neutrality concepts. That is because freezing the overall regulatory framework ... would allow them to inflict the exact same harms -- and perhaps worse -- on the same consumers that the bright-line rules protect.”