With the Internet economy and America's digital future at stake, the American Cable Association proposed a series of important Net Neutrality policies designed to secure a balanced broadband ecosystem that protected the interests of consumers, safeguarded the benefits of an open Internet and preserved the incentive structure needed to justify the financial risk of deploying broadband facilities in rural, low-density communities.
"ACA firmly believes that flawed regulation is worse than no regulation at all. Any attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to establish Net Neutrality rules must include powerful Internet market participants that offer content, applications, services and devices, and not just focus on broadband access providers," American Cable Association President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.
ACA communicated its views on the proper role and scope of Net Neutrality regulation in detailed comments filed on January 14 with the FCC in a closely watched proceeding that could have a profound impact on the business strategy of small cable operators that continue to provide broadband service to millions of consumers residing in some of the most economically challenging communities in the country.
ACA's sent a clear warning that the goal of an open, vibrant Internet won't be achieved unless the agency moved beyond a rigid focus on the conduct of broadband access providers, particularly ACA members that clearly lack the market power to warrant even light government oversight.
"The FCC must not fall into the trap of adopting regulations that contain Hummer-size loopholes that powerful content companies can drive through skewing markets and bending small broadband access providers to their will," Polka said. "The writing is on the wall. Just look at the Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN360 business model, which denies consumers access to online content unless their broadband access provider has paid Disney wholesale fees that all subscribers must pay. Disney's refusal to engage in a direct relationship with customers is the antithesis of an open Internet where consumer sovereignty reigns."
From ACA's perspective, the FCC needs to make a number of key adjustments to produce a coherent strategy so that the agency achieves the goals it has set out for itself and the public expects and deserves. To that extent, ACA recommended the following policies to reduce ambiguity, provide greater clarity for all stakeholders, and reduce the risk of unintended consequences:
• Net Neutrality regulation must include all providers of broadband content, applications, services and devices;
• Reasonable network management needs to be defined to include "bandwidth throttling" for high-bandwidth users during periods of congestion; nondiscriminatory prioritization of traffic during periods of congestion; and consumption-based billing; T
• Technical compatibility should not be interpreted to mean that a DOCSIS-based broadband Internet access provider has to support a DSL modem currently compatible with telephone network technology;
• Provisions that would entitle consumers to competition among network providers or service providers should not require broadband access providers to comply with common carrier "open access" mandates;
• The definition of nondiscrimination should not preclude broadband access providers from offering a wide range of differently priced services and service levels;
• Transparency obligations should permit broadband access providers to inform consumers of their network management policies and practices by posting information on company Web sites;
• Various specialized and managed services, such as VoIP, IPTV, Web site hosting, advertising, virtual private networks for business, should be exempt from regulation; and
• Enforcement policies currently used by the FCC should be maintained, allowing for the resolution of disputes through established formal and informal complaint procedures.
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