Moral Low Ground


Sprint Backs Net Neutrality in Surprise FCC Letter

(Mike Mozart)

(Mike Mozart)

Net neutrality advocates cheered a surprise move by telecommunications giant Sprint, which broke with the rest of the wireless industry on Friday by telling federal regulators that it would support strict net neutrality rules.

Gigaom reports Sprint stated in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission that it would back reclassification of Internet service providers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, a more strict regimen under which the ISPs would be treated more like public utilities.

President Barack Obama supports Title II reclassification as “a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.”

“Sprint does not believe that a light-touch application of Title II … would harm the continued investment in, and deployment of, mobile broadband services,” Sprint’s letter said. “So long as the FCC continues to allow wireless carriers to manage our networks and differentiate our products, Sprint will continue to invest in data networks regardless of whether they are regulated by Title II, Section 706, or some other light touch regulatory regime.”

Sprint’s filing places it at odds with other ISPs including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, which all staunchly oppose reclassification, as they claim it will destroy their ability to invest in network upgrades.

Some observers have taken a cynical view of Sprint’s announcement, noting that the company is much smaller than its main competitors.

“It’s just a guess, but perhaps they are in the same position we are: they’re in a distant third place, and do not have enough customers to really monetize ‘captive eyeballs,’ but extorting content sources,” Dane Jasper, CEO of the smaller California ISP, told Wired. “By assuring that neither AT&T nor Verizon do either, they can help maintain a level playing field.”

The Sprint letter precedes an important February 26 FCC meeting at which the agency will vote on new Internet regulations.

Congressional Republicans have vowed to fight the new rules, arguing that net neutrality will kill jobs and stifle innovation.

“An open, vibrant ‪#‎Internet‬ is essential to a growing economy, and ‪#‎netneutrality‬ is a textbook example of the kind of Washington regulations that destroy innovation and entrepreneurship,” House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) wrote in a Facebook post last November. “Federal bureaucrats should NOT be in the business of regulating the Internet. Not now. Not ever.”

But President Obama has become an increasingly vocal defender of net neutrality.

“Ever since the Internet was created, it’s been organized around basic principles of openness, fairness and freedom,” Obama said. “There are no gatekeepers deciding which sites you get to access. There are no ‘toll roads’ on the information superhighway.”

“This set of principles — the idea of net neutrality — has unleashed the power of the Internet and given innovators the chance to thrive,” the president continued. “Abandoning these principles would threaten to end the Internet as we know it.”

“We cannot allow ISPs to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” Obama added.

The president proposed a four-point plan to protect net neutrality. It would prevent ISPs from blocking user access to legal content, ban them from “throttling,” or intentionally speeding up or slowing down service, prohibit paid prioritization, or “Internet fast lanes,” and increase transparency.

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