"All the logic that we are seeing in the Net Neutrality debate is assuming that nothing has changed; it's assuming that it's 1995. What's actually happened is that people get more and more service, year in and year out," says Daniel Berninger, a telecom activist who was involved in the early days of internet-phone service of Vonage.
Net Neutrality proponents, including President Obama, argue that internet-service providers (ISPs) need to be regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in order to keep the internet "free and open."
Berninger heads up VCXC, a nonprofit that is pushing for regulatory and policy changes to speed up the transition to IP-based networks for voice and data sharing. He's an unsparing critic of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's plan to implement Net Neutrality by regulating broadband network operators under Title II or "common carrier" provisions of federal law.
Title II has historically applied to telephone companies, which were regulated as public utilities and subject to government scrutiny regarding every aspect of service, including pricing and universal service obligations. Since the mid-1990s, the internet has been classified as an "information service," which is subject to much less regulation under Title I of the relevant federal law.
"Title II regulation has been around for 80 years," says Berninger, "and we know exactly what it can accomplish and what it can't accomplish…in all the things that it touched, it essentially destroyed innovation." In 1956, he explains, as part of a consent decree involving ATT, phone service was regulated by the FCC under Title II while "information services" were essentially unregulated. "We split communications and computing and treated them entirely different—essentially as a twin experiment. Well, one twin prospered and one twin did not do very well." Berninger argues that virtually all the problems that proponents of Title II regulation and Net Neutrality worry over—such as the blocking of specific websites and the deliberate slowing of traffic—haven't occurred precisely because ISPs are subject to market competition and must constantly innovate to keep customers happy. FCC regulation would hamper that.
The FCC will vote on Wheeler's proposal later this week and is widely expected to endorse it. The FCC has lost two previous attempts to assert regulatory control over the internet.
Read the FCC's own report on Internet Access Services, which supports Berninger's claim that service and speeds have been increasing over the past several decades.
About 11 minutes.
Camera by Joshua Swain and Robert Mariani. Edited by Mariani.