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MWC Las Vegas 2023: US regulators risk another predicament

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wants to reinstate net neutrality rules that regulate how traffic flows on the internet. As with antitrust enforcers’ often-frustrated deal crackdown, the agency is stuck in a cycle of trying to litigate future problems, today.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel plans to revive a 2015 regulation preventing internet service providers, such as Verizon Communications or AT&T, from throttling content from the likes of Netflix unless they pay a toll. The agency rescinded the rules in 2017 under President Donald Trump.

Any attempt to bring those rules back will entail a vicious fight with the industry, over unclear stakes. Last time around, the fear was that broadband providers would suppress competition by charging for fast lanes on the internet, disadvantaging upstarts. But the rules have been off the book for years, and none of this has come to pass; Netflix and others have, in the meantime, successfully upended industries.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr at MWC Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon addressing the big elephant in the room – the proposed return of net neutrality rules – which he sized up as a big mistake.

Carr recalled the last time the US went through this debate in 2016/2017 and said it is hard to describe the rhetoric that dominated the conversation back then, with headlines talking about the end of the internet, as we know it. Since then, the US has invested a lot in narrowing the broadband gap, including during Covid, and improving internet services, he said. Carr argued that their current time at the FCC would be better spent on addressing issues like the lack of mid-band spectrum in the US pipeline, especially with the World Radiocommunications Conference in Dubai coming up in November.

At the event, at the keynote stage on Wednesday, Kyle Malady, CEO of Verizon Business, commented on Verizon’s stance on net neutrality. “For us, this isn’t needed. I think we’re a company that listens to what our customers want from us. We provide broadband service to them the way they want. It’s a competitive market,” he said.

Now, “it’s a little bit almost like it’s a theoretical problem that could happen and we need to regulate it and right now I think it’s unneeded to be honest with you.”

Interpretations may vary, but in general, “we certainly believe that standard network management and to be able to offer a certain level of service, not to a single customer but to any customer that pays for it or signs up for it, is not a violation of net neutrality,” said Alok Shah, VP of Networks Strategy at Samsung Electronics America, on the sidelines of MWC on Wednesday. “It’s when you’re offering a specific service to a specific company and restricting others from getting that same offering – that’s when I think it starts to become a challenge.”

When it comes to offering all broadcasters the opportunity to get a certain level of service, “then I don’t see an issue there,” he said. “I think it’s when you start to pick favorites that you start to run afoul of net neutrality.”

CT Bureau

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