AT&T says Title II advocates' blocking, throttling allegations are unconvincing

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AT&T struck back at Title II advocates, saying their claims that the telco blocks and throttles traffic have no merit. The statement may drive a wider divide between incumbent carriers and competitive carrier industry groups in the net neutrality debate.

At the heart of the net neutrality debate is classifying telecom services under Title II of the Telecom Act. Incumbent telcos say Title II does not apply to the current structure of broadband deployment and that it will only create uncertainty.

Traditional telcos like AT&T have long maintained that Title II regulation is not necessary to ensure that service providers inhibit a consumer’s ability to access internet applications.  

RELATED: AT&T, Verizon get behind net neutrality protest but maintain stance on Title II

The service provider, in its filing for changing the net neutrality rules, points to what the telco says is a fallacy in citing the Madison River/VoIP and Comcast/BitTorrent debates.

“The most widely cited anecdotes—the decade-old Madison River/VoIP and Comcast/BitTorrent controversies—involved allegations of blocking and throttling respectively and were resolved years before the Commission had binding rules addressing even those practices,” AT&T said in its FCC filing (PDF). “Far from demonstrating the need for full-blown common carrier regulation, those incidents suggests that non-binding noblocking/no-throttling principles are sufficient to address any lingering concerns about blocking or throttling.”

AT&T added that other claims of thwarting traffic are also problematic.

“The other blocking and throttling allegations cited by Title II proponents are similarly unconvincing,” AT&T said. “In fact, the cited incidents involved no net neutrality violations at all. Claims that ISPs “blocked” Google Wallet functionality (e.g., Public Knowledge Comments 105-06) are a case in point. When Title II proponents try to pass such “blocking” off as evidence of anticompetitive behavior, they omit the critical facts that debunk their claim.”

While incumbent telcos and their industry groups maintain they don’t want to take away consumer rights on the internet, competitive groups like Incompas say the FCC could be setting a bad precedent for consumers.

Incompas claims that the large, wireline broadband providers will gain power to serve as gatekeepers with the ability and incentive to harm both consumers and edge providers by unfairly interfering with internet traffic.

“We cannot rollback the consumer protections enshrined in the Open Internet Order,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of Incompas, in a statement. “The FCC is pushing the internet down a very dangerous path, one that is anti-competition, anti-consumer, and anti-streaming.”

Pro-telco industry groups align

AT&T is hardly alone in its sentiment. The service provider is joined by other pro-incumbent groups such as US Telecom and the Internet Innovation Alliance.

US Telecom, which claims it supports an open internet, claims that its main desire is to encourage Congress and the FCC to adopt policies that will facilitate new network investments.

“USTelecom and its members are not asking the Commission to take away the fundamental open internet protections that our nation’s internet users have always enjoyed,” adding that that those who support keeping the current rules in place “seem content to have the Commission ignore the harms suffered by the innovative broadband companies investing to build the networks necessary to provide these valuable services.”

“Reclassification of broadband internet access service (BIAS) under Title II was a means to an end, but it was not the only option,” USTelecom said in its comments. “We seek a more modern, durable, and effective solution that takes into account and equitably balances the costs and benefits inherent to rules that encompass outdated legacy service restrictions and requirements. Title II does not achieve such a balance.”

On similar lines, the IIA says the growing use of consumers using the internet as their main portal to consume content, illustrates that the FCC should reclassify internet access as an information service.

 “The survey results make clear how consumers actually use the internet and that broadband access fits squarely within the definition of an information service,” commented IIA Co-Chairman Jamal Simmons, in its filing. “IIA supports the Commission’s proposal to restore broadband internet access to its status as an information service, under which the internet grew and flourished for nearly two decades, starting during the Clinton Administration."

A strong response

As the deadline to submit comments for the FCC’s net neutrality reform has come and gone, it is clear that the response may have set new records over an issue that’s clearly pitted a divide between incumbent telcos and pro-consumer groups.

In all, the FCC received 21.9 million filings responding to the "Restoring Internet Freedom" docket, surpassing the 4 million it received before the 2015 rules were adopted.

However, it appears that there was a debate over how many people and groups were actually opposed to repealing the Title II net neutrality rules.

According to a study conducted by Emparata, which was commissioned for the telco and cable industry-based Broadband for America group, showed that a large portion of people who filed comments with the FCC want the regulator to keep the current rules and Title II classification in place.

After sorting through the 21.8 million comments, including spam and form letters, Emparata found that 60% were opposed against FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to repeal the current rules, while another 39% favored his plan to overturn the current rules.

On its homepage, Broadband for America did not talk about the opposition to the Title II net neutrality rules, saying only that the "report by expert data analytics firm reveals unprecedented volume and clutter in the docket."

The group said that the analysis shows that 69.9% of comments are in favor of repealing Title II once accounting for fake and unverifiable international comments.

Earlier this month, the FCC said it would continue to accept comments on its net neutrality proceeding for another two weeks, an extension to the deadline that had been requested by a number of public interest groups including Public Knowledge, Access Now, the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumers Union and others.

Despite the response opposing his plan to overhaul the rules, FCC Chairman Pai has indicated he’s not going to change his mind.

"As I said previously, the raw number is not as important as the substantive comments that are in the record," Pai said at a press conference following the July monthly FCC meeting.