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Net neutrality advocates: Hybrid approach won't work

Grant Gross | Nov. 10, 2014
While pro-net neutrality groups say a hybrid regulatory model wouldn't go far enough to protect Internet users, groups opposed to strong regulations say it goes too far.

In the fractious debate over net neutrality, efforts to strike a compromise don't seem to be working. A proposal reportedly favored by a top U.S. regulator is drawing fire from groups on both sides of the issue, with 70 pro-net neutrality groups speaking up against the plan Friday.

Following a recent news report that U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is leaning toward a so-called hybrid net neutrality proposal that regulates only a piece of broadband service, the groups advocating for strong net neutrality rules sent him a letter saying the plan would "threaten the open Internet."

While pro-net neutrality groups say a hybrid regulatory model wouldn't go far enough to protect Internet users, groups opposed to strong regulations say it goes too far. Verizon Communications, in a blog post this week, said a lighter regulatory approach would be the best way for the FCC to avoid a court challenge.

With a hybrid regulatory model, "the FCC has opened itself to credible challenges by all parties," wrote Randal Milch, Verizon's executive vice president for public policy. "Like a full move to [broadband regulation], the hybrid approach also fairly guarantees litigation."

The hybrid approach Wheeler reportedly favors would divide broadband into two services for the purpose of regulation.

One service would be retail broadband access, which would remain lightly regulated, and the second would be back-end transit service, which the FCC would reclassify as a regulated common carrier, similar to utility-style regulation for traditional telephone service. Mozilla proposed this type of hybrid regulatory model back in May.

Under the Mozilla plan, the FCC would divide last-mile broadband service into two "distinct relationships," one between the broadband provider and the end user, and the second a remote delivery service offered by the broadband provider to websites, cloud storage and other online services.

Mozilla asked the FCC to reclassify that remote delivery service as a common carrier subject to utility-style regulations under Title II of the Communications Act.

An FCC spokeswoman said this week that Wheeler continues to consider a range of net neutrality options.

Many proponents of strong net neutrality regulations want the FCC to reclassify all broadband service as a regulated utility. A hybrid approach "would split the Internet in two, creating divisions in Internet access and enshrining the notion that people or companies sending information have protections against discrimination, while users have none against their own ISP," the letter said.

Among the groups signing Friday's letter are several heavily involved in the net neutrality debate, including Free Press, Fight for the Future and Demand Progress. Other groups signing include Greenpeace, Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Harry Potter Alliance and Million Hoodies.

 

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