Considering Broadband as a Common Carrier in Four Simple Steps


NCTA today filed a letter with the FCC opposing a Title II reclassification of broadband. That is, we oppose the suggestion by some that broadband networks should be regulated essentially like a public utility, or common carrier. We’ve previously discussed the cons of Common Carrier classification as well posted a FAQ about this. But with growing conversation about Net Neutrality comes a need for a renewed understanding of the core issues surrounding broadband reclassification.

You can read the letter here, but an effort to encourage both transparency and a better understanding of common carrier regulation, we’re breaking down the letter and explaining the key reasons why choosing this path would be bad for the Internet and consumers.

It’s important to state upfront that NCTA wants to be a constructive partner in dialogue about new Open Internet rules. The substance of proposed rules can be fairly debated, but there is no sound reason to pursue reclassification under Title II.


First, common carrier regulation would threaten the virtuous cycle of deployment, innovation and adoption that the FCC has long sought to promote under section 706. Section 706 is a part of the1996 Telecom Act that legally tasks the FCC with the responsibility of making sure broadband is deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. Broadband is the fastest deploying technology in history. In only 17 years, cable’s been able to deliver broadband access to over 90 percent of American households. But by turning broadband into a common carrier, deployment and upgrades will almost certainly slow.

Second, the classification of broadband Internet access “turns on the nature of the function that the end user is offered.”  Because the basic offerings and functionality of the broadband network are wholly unchanged and because cable ISPs have never in the past been regulated as common carriers, the FCC would be contradicting its former position if it were to reclassify broadband under Title II. If the FCC were to do so, it would “plunge the broadband industry into a lengthy period of uncertainty while a new round of appellate proceedings ran its course – a process that can be easily avoided by relying on the roadmap provided by the Verizon court.” In other words, doing so is legally questionable and, considering the recent Verizon decision offered a clear way around reclassification, totally unnecessary and wasteful.

Third, if the FCC were to classify broadband providers as common carriers, where would the projected $350 billion required to reach broadband deployment goals set forth in the National Broadband Plan come from? Right now, it comes from private investment. If broadband were reclassified, private money would almost surely dry up, as a wide array of financial analysts and industry observers have warned, and instead come from public funds. Indeed, as we see in our crumbling public infrastructure, the more the system is reliant on tax dollars and the will of Congress, the more things get neglected, fall into disrepair, and become woefully underfunded.

Fourth, common carrier reclassification wouldn’t affect the end goal of stricter Net Neutrality rules – especially those that prohibit “fast lanes”.  That’s because common carrier classification “does not impose a duty of ‘nondiscrimination’ but rather proscribes only ‘unjust’ or ‘unreasonable’ discrimination. That’s why it makes more sense to, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is doing, base any open Internet rules on the guidance provided by the recent Verizon court case decision and not based on common carrier reclassification.

  • Michael Elling

    All major booms in the TMT markets over the past 30 years have resulted from equal or open access policies or standards. The list is too numerous to go into here and occur at various layers and boundary points. To argue that lack of interconnection or closed access promotes investment is disingenuous at best and cuts against all recent experience at worst.

    That said, there is the need at the same time open access or interconnect is implemented in layers 1-2 in the last mile with “balanced settlements.” The notion that bill and keep will work to promote new service generation is equally false. In fact, network theory and economics promotes the notion of settlements that serve to provide price signals and incentives north-south (between app and infrastructure) and east-west (between agents core to edge or edge to edge) in the informational stack.

    There is an opportunity for the FCC to achieve a compromise where goals for both sides in the debate and we witness a demand-led generative boom for 4/8K VoD, 2-way HD collaboration, seamless mobile BB, and IoT, unrivaled in human history.

  • RubenCLeon

    Whatever happened to AOL?

    They mailed 60 million diskettes to get consumers “hooked-up” back when the 286 was the dominant processor and tried to keep us all inside their content network, and they were Top Dog for years but eventually failed miserably because consumers shy away from restricted access, even if it’s only having to click “one too many” buttons.

    Unless you want the internet to become another Amtrak, keep the bureaucrats away from something that isn’t broken. Let the consumers vote with their dollars.