Because every American
should have access
to broadband Internet.

The Internet Innovation Alliance is a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that aim to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to the critical tool that is broadband Internet. The IIA seeks to promote public policies that support equal opportunity for universal broadband availability and adoption so that everyone, everywhere can seize the benefits of the Internet - from education to health care, employment to community building, civic engagement and beyond.

Friday, May 29

eWeek on “Permanently Securing Net Neutrality”

By Brad

Originally published by eWeek. Reposted here with permission.

IIA Proposes Net Neutrality Legislation to Solve FCC Title II Dilemma

by Wayne Rash

At first, Rick Boucher’s idea seemed too good to be true. The former Democratic Congressman from Virginia was proposing an idea so radical that I had to check my notes to make sure I hadn’t been daydreaming.

The concept was a bipartisan bill that would give both Democrats and Republicans something each party wants and little or nothing they don’t.

Boucher, honorary chairman of the Internet Innovation Alliance, offered draft legislation that would give the Democrats guaranteed, long term, net neutrality and Republicans something they really want, which is to return Internet access to being an information service rather than a telecommunications service, as it is under Title II. Perhaps more important, the bill that Boucher proposes doesn’t attempt to do anything else.

Boucher’s reasoning is based on a recent change of heart in Republican circles regarding net neutrality. Lately, it seems the party is OK with the concept as long as they eliminate the real problem they see with Title II, which is the reclassification. “What is so different today is that the Republicans have offered to the Democrats that range of network neutrality protection,” Boucher said.

“The Republicans have said that they’re willing to put strong protections for net neutrality in place and continue to have protection for information services,” Boucher explained. He said that for their part, the Democrats have told him that they’re willing to work with the Republicans as long as any legislation doesn’t become loaded down with provisions they can’t support.

“That way there’s only two moving parts,” Boucher said. The problem so far is that nobody on the Democratic side of the aisle has moved forward with discussions on how to draft legislation that would get bipartisan support. Now, with the move by the FCC to reclassify Internet access under Title II, Boucher thinks there may be an opening.

In a May 21 press conference held the day before our interview, Boucher and legal scholar Kathleen Sullivan, who is the former Dean of the Stanford Law School, pointed out how recent events could well result in all sides losing what they want. Sullivan pointed out that current legal challenges to the Title II reclassification could, and in fact are likely to, put the entire move by the FCC on hold.

But Boucher pointed out the looming danger that could come about in two years, a Republican win in the White House and a new, Republican-chaired FCC. He said that such an event could effectively undo everything the Democrats want, but also might undo everything the Republicans want, too.

Either way, it could tie up Internet regulation for years and, in the process, hurt innovation through years of uncertainty.

But there’s another potential stumbling block in this otherwise simple idea: that is, will the President sign such legislation? Boucher thinks he will, if only because the White House has been pushing the Title II reclassification is as a way to get net neutrality in place.

Unfortunately, as many people (including me) have mentioned, the FCC’s action doesn’t guarantee anything. A future FCC or a future White House can undo it in a heartbeat. This is why Boucher thinks bipartisan legislation is really the only good way to assure that net neutrality stands the test of time. Once it’s written into law, even the FCC can’t change it.

Of course the FCC doesn’t want to try, just as it has tried to rewrite the Communications Act to say what it wants. Sullivan pointed this out in her statement at the press conference as did Boucher, who is one of the authors of the current Communications Act.

“The Communications Act distinguishes between telecommunication services and information services,” Sullivan said in her presentation. “The Supreme Court has properly defined cable internet use as an information service. The FCC has reversed course and acted outside of the statute. Congress has not authorized this.”

By crafting and passing bipartisan legislation, both sides of the aisle in Congress can avoid outcomes they don’t want, Boucher said. “Democrats can protect net neutrality and Republicans can achieve a top policy priority which is to treat broadband as an information service.”

Boucher said he hopes that the House and Senate Commerce Committees can get the ball rolling. He pointed out that these committees tend to stay away from partisan politics and perhaps because of that continue to function in what is otherwise a politically gridlocked Congress.

Unfortunately, just because a bill makes a lot of sense, fixes a problem that many people believe badly needs fixing and is supported by both parties doesn’t mean it’ll ever see the light of day as a piece of proposed legislation.

The sad fact remains that despite general agreement on the need for a return to the way that the Internet was regulated before the Title II reclassification (meaning lightly if at all) and the agreement by nearly everyone from the Supreme Court on down that the Internet is an information service, getting legislation through Congress is problematic under even the best circumstances.

One can hope that Rick Boucher and the IIA can get this bill past dead center, but hope is about all that’s left.

Thursday, May 21

Permanently Securing Net Neutrality — Teleconference

By IIA

Earlier today, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher and constitutional law expert Kathleen M. Sullivan participated in a teleconference to discuss the political and legal infirmities of the FCC’s recent net neutrality decision. The teleconference coincided with the release of IIA’s informational doc, “Permanently Securing Net Neutrality,” along with our timeline of light-touch regulation that has given consumers a vibrant Internet.

During the teleconference, Sullivan and Boucher discussed the political and legal fragilities of the FCC’s recent decision to impose public utility-style net neutrality rules on the broadband ecosystem, as well as the broader implications of Title II reclassification. Specifically:

How the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband Internet access service as a “telecommunications service” subject to Title II common carrier regulation is contrary to nearly 50 years of FCC and Supreme Court precedent;

How the FCC failed to legally and factually justify its decision to abruptly reverse course; and

How the FCC now faces the real threat that its monopoly-era approach will be overturned either by a court or through the election of a Republican President that would alter the Commission’s leadership in 2017.

Our thanks to Kathleen M. Sullivan for participating in the teleconference. A recording of the discussion is embeded below:

Friday, May 15

Simmons Urges Congressional Action

By Brad

At CNBC, our Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons has an op-ed explaining how the Federal Communications Commission’s new open Internet rules could be swept away with the next presidential election, and how Congress should make permanent in law prohibitions against slowing, throttling and creating Internet fast lanes without imposing public utility-style regulation on broadband. An excerpt:

All those who care about preserving an open Internet that maintains the flexibility to innovate and develop new products and services without entrepreneurs having to seek government permission should support a new law. A new law won’t be perfect and will require both sides to make compromises, but it is a far better path to certainty and avoids legal and political wrangling that could tie advancement up for years, slowing down innovation and economic growth in the meantime.

Voters should ask Congress to pass an open Internet law before all attention turns to the presidential campaign. Otherwise, the next president will hold in her — or his — hands the future of the open Internet. Protecting such an important resource from the whims of shifting presidential political winds is among the most important things voters can do to keep the economy growing.

You can check out Simmons’ full op-ed over at CNBC.

Thursday, May 14

MMTC Sends Letter to FCC and Urges Modernization of Lifeline Program to Include Broadband

By Brad

The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC) has assembled an impressive list of co-signers for a letter to the FCC encouraging the Commission to rapidly and comprehensively reform the Lifeline universal service program for the digital age. An excerpt from the letter:

Success in upgrading this 30 year-old program will require policy makers to embrace a new approach. Commissioner Clyburn outlined her thoughts on the subject in a 2012 speech at the American Enterprise Institute referencing immediate Lifeline reform where she stated that reform must occur in a manner that, “…increases the value of other federal investment, reduces administrative burdens, reduces incentives for waste, fraud and abuse, addresses privacy concerns of consumers, streamlines the program to encourage participation and leverages efficiencies from other programs.”

On behalf of the constituents that entrust our organizations to ensuring parity in telecommunications services and other public benefits, we believe that the Commission has the tools necessary to create a new twenty-first century model for the Lifeline program that would serve the needs of low income consumers in an efficient, secure and respectful fashion.

You can read the MMTC letter, which includes its recommendations on how best to reform Lifeline, at the FCC’s website. And for more on the subject, check out our white paper “Bringing the FCC’s Lifeline Program Into the 21st Century.”

Thursday, May 07

Commissioner Clyburn on Lifeline Reform

By Brad

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has penned an op-ed for Multichannel News on the need to reform the Commission’s Lifeline program. An excerpt:

The FCC’s Lifeline program, originally established in 1985, was designed to ensure that Americans have universal access to telephone service because it was found that such access was “crucial to full participation in our society and economy, which are increasingly depending upon the rapid exchange of information.” The FCC emphasized at the time that its “responsibilities under the Communications Act require us to take steps … to prevent degradation of universal service and the division of our society …  into information ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ ”
Today, a full three decades after the creation of Lifeline, the program still only funds voice service. It has been stuck in a bygone era since its inception and is in need of serious reform.

Commissioner Clyburn goes on to list her recommendations for reform, which include:

• Establishing minimum service standards for any provider that receives a Lifeline subsidy. This will ensure that we get the most value for each universal service dollar spent and better service for Lifeline recipients.

• Relieving providers of responsibility for determining customer eligibility. Lifeline is the only federal benefit program I know of where the provider determines the consumer’s eligibility. That must cease. For providers, this change would yield significant administrative savings, and for consumers, it would bring dignity to the program experience.

• Leveraging efficiencies from existing programs. A coordinated enrollment system would allow customers to enroll in Lifeline at the same time that they apply for other benefit programs; and

• Instituting public-private partnerships and coordinated outreach efforts. The lack of a centralized effort is leaving too many who qualify behind.

Commissioner Clyburn’s recommendations dovetail nicely with IIA’s own assessment of how best to bring Lifeline into the digital age. As we outlined in our white paper “Bringing the FCC’s Lifeline Program Into the 21st Century,” there are four key steps the FCC should make:

• Bring the Lifeline Program into the 21st Century by making broadband a key part of the program’s rubric;

• Empower consumers by providing the subsidy directly to eligible people instead of companies;

• Level the playing field between service providers to broaden consumer choice and stimulate competition for their purchasing power;

• Safeguard and simplify the program by taking administration away from companies that are not accountable to the American public, instead vesting that governmental responsibility with an appropriate government agency.

Friday, May 01

Boucher Returns to Sirius XM’s “Morning Briefing”

By Brad

Earlier today, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher returned to Sirius XM’s “Morning Briefing” to once again talk technology and regulations with host Tim Farley. Asked to respond to presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul’s pledge to overturn the FCC’s recent Title II classification, Boucher argued that a congressional repeal be ineffective (the President would simply veto the resolution), and that a bi-partisan bill offered by Republicans would be a better path — especially for Democrats, since the current net neutrality rules could be swept away in the next election.

Here’s audio of the interview.

Monday, April 20

Mehlman on Special Access Success

By Brad

Our Co-Chairman Bruce Mehlman penned an op-ed for Multichannel News on how increased competition in Special Access is active proof that the free market is working. An excerpt:

[I]n a smooth functioning market, there will be many providers offering a variety of options, including different options based on speed. Not everyone wants to pay for the fastest speeds available. Though inconsistent with the Washington narrative of regulate-to-prevent-“inequality”, as we’re seeing in health care and some tax proposals, in the real world consumers and businesses prefer to choose what’s best for them.

So with cable joining the fray, incumbent telcos are now facing greater competition in special access, just as one would predict in a market that is working well – something for regulators to remember the next time competitors come knocking on their door seeking government intervention and stricter regulations as a means to help subsidize their business model. Markets work, if we will just let them.

Check out Mehlman’s full op-ed over at Multichannel News.

Monday, April 13

Congress Needs to Act

By IIA

In response to the publication of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Title II Net Neutrality decision in the Federal Register, we encourage Congress to craft legislation in order to avoid legal challenges and market uncertainty. The publication of the decision starts the clock on potential legal challenges, and given that the FCC’s rules will soon take effect, Congress should use this window of opportunity for legislation that sets forth permanent rules to advance Internet openness, continued investment, and innovation in the nation’s vibrant 21st Century digital broadband economy.

Wednesday, April 08

Rick Boucher In The Hill

By Brad

This morning, our Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher had an op-ed published in The Hill encouraging Democrats to work across the aisle to legislatively ensure net neutrality is enshrined into law. An excerpt:

[W]hy, one may ask, would Democrats want to accept such an offer, since the FCC has now reclassified broadband as a telecommunications service, vesting the FCC with the power to apply a broad swath of common carrier rules to the Internet? Under that authority, the FCC can assure network neutrality and have residual power to regulate broadband providers in other ways that today are unforeseen. Why would Democrats want to give that up for a statute that only protects net neutrality?

The answer is both simple and compelling. The FCC’s reclassification decision rests on a bed of sand. It is highly impermanent and could be washed away with the next presidential election. Today’s seemingly firm network neutrality assurances are at serious risk of being lost in the future.

You can read Boucher’s full op-ed over at The Hill.

Tuesday, April 07

Celebrating a Government Initiative Done Right

By Bruce Mehlman

Recently I had the privilege of participating in Georgetown University’s look back at the National Broadband Plan and its impact. Although far less high-profile than many made-for-the-media-circus endeavors, the National Broadband Plan (NBBP) proved a model of creativity… efficient, effective government, your tax dollars well-spent. Much credit goes to NBBP’s fearless and far-sighted leader Blair Levin, and Blair happily enjoyed a victory lap while heaping praise upon his many able lieutenants and soldiers… both outcomes to be expected by those who know Blair well!

While others dove deep into the specific recommendations made and outcomes achieved in the report itself, I took away four core conclusions from the five-years-after look back:

1. People Matter. Being the government is not a barrier to efficiency, innovation or effectiveness… given the right team and right processes.  Blair gathered a “best and brightest” of policy analysts to research and write NBBP. He neither relied on outside experts alone nor eschewed career professionals.  Instead he blended a team of thoughtful go-getters such as Pew’s John Horrigan, with leading thinkers at several agencies, a “best and brightest” approach that paid dividends.

2. Process Matters. The NBBP planning efforts were highly inclusive, hearing from all sides of most issues and inviting every sector to participate. No ideological or political litmus tests applied, maximizing ideas and enthusiasm. Concurrently NBBP was highly transparent, minimizing suspicions or criticisms of the ultimate product (lessons from the failed-and-far-less-transparent 1993 “HillaryCare” and 2001 “Cheney Energy Policy”).

3. Policy Matters. Even the best process and smartest people would not have counted if they failed to ask the right questions and offer the right answers. In this case, they did both, highlighting the critical need for more spectrum for broadband services, for example, along with creative methods for finding it. NBBP likewise helped illuminate the need for and value of driving fiber deeper into networks, urging an “if you build it they will come” approach that has largely matched reality. And NBBP supplied vision of a broadband-enabled world for those many policy makers less familiar with the end-game opportunities.

4. Politics Matters. In this case, avoiding the unnecessary political morass named Net Neutrality. To have observed the President on the campaign trail, one might have concluded that the #1 broadband issue was Net Neutrality and preventing some nefarious monopolists from hijacking the “People’s Internet.” To its great credit, the NBBP recognized the difference between serious policy questions and partisan political hype in search of marketplace realities and assiduously avoided the issue. (Officially, these political appointees deferred to the FCC that wanted to take the issue head on… yet while the FCC spent a year stuck in the political mud, the NBBP charged forward). In reality the NBBP planners understood that the light-tough regulatory approach identified by President Clinton and maintained by President Bush paid extraordinary dividends, as we saw in a roaring broadband economy. Recent decisions to roll back those long-standing policies are a gamble at best, and an unnecessary one. Broadband and especially wireless has thrived in a light-touch regulatory framework, but we’ve just plucked a whole bunch of feathers from the golden goose. Maybe it won’t impact egg production, but maybe it will. Time will tell.

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