Beth Schultz
Beth Schultz is editor of No Jitter and program co-chair for Enterprise Connect. Beth has more than two decades of...
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Beth Schultz | March 27, 2015 |


FCC's Clyburn Talks Up Net Neutrality

FCC's Clyburn Talks Up Net Neutrality The second-term commissioner shares her thoughts on the why the FCC did what in latest Internet order.

The second-term commissioner shares her thoughts on the why the FCC did what in latest Internet order.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is "absolutely, positively" certain that the University of South Carolina Gamecocks will thrash the University of North Carolina Tar Heels in tonight's women's NCAA bracket matchup... oh, and that the commission's net neutrality order will stand up against all challenges.

Clyburn proved herself a true South Carolinan and consummate regulator through and through earlier this week during a Q&A session at the Oracle Industry Connect conference in Washington, D.C. She spoke candidly with Rajeev Chand, managing director and head of research at Rutberg & Company, in explaining the rationale behind the FCC's net neutrality decision.

Mignon Clyburn, FCC

Some might say Clyburn, who is serving her second term at the FCC, was a tad defensive in her remarks. You can be the judge. Here's a summary of some of her major points.

  • Uncertainty is a big problem. In fact, it's the biggest problem the FCC needed to address with its net neutrality order, said Clyburn, calling it "an enemy of the good" and "the biggest threat." Today, ISPs hold a disproportionate amount of influence over your online engagement, she said -- with the "you" to whom she referred being the consumer or the business. In absence of the order, the FCC cannot assure ISPs will apply any reasonableness to network management -- throttling and what-not -- for example. "There is no desire by this body, the five people who are responsible for the communications ecosystem in this country and the influence we have around the world, to have levels of uncertainty and all of the other things people might say should be feared."
  • The Net neutrality order aims to fix what's broken. Again speaking to uncertainty, Clyburn insisted that the FCC's order has not given way to any such situation. "You might differ with a decision or two. You might think this was a little heavy-handed, or not. But there are very few decisions you can point at and say, 'Oh, my gosh! This is going to break what's unbroken.'"
  • The old rules had to go. "We looked at the current ecosystem and we recognized that the rules that were in place when we were talking about just plain old telephone service did not apply here and did not make sense," Clyburn said. And, she assured her audience, the FCC has no desire to go back to the regulatory model of old. "If you mention tariff regulation ... at the FCC, you will see 1,800 people shudder."
  • The FCC doesn't work in isolation. Rather, in crafting the net neutrality rules the commissioners listened to politicians and, more importantly, millions of constituents. "John and Jane Q. Public... they're our regulators," Clyburn said. "They will temper and police any issues or fears you have about an entity going to one extreme or the other."
  • The FCC needs a way of being nimble. While noting that she advocated for maintaining the 2010 Open Internet rules on "unreasonable discrimination, reasonable network management," Clyburn said she supported the more broad -- "some would say more general" -- misconduct standard. "It's an acknowledgement that we can't foresee every bump in the road that might come before us," she said. As regulators, Clyburn explained, the FCC commissioners need tools at their disposal that help it address unforeseen situations if and when they arise. "We have to be nimble enough from a regulatory standpoint to ensure the public interest is upheld and it's very necessary."
  • Paid prioritization and tiered service are not one and the same. The principles enumerated in the net neutrality order do not necessarily mean that you can only get a Yugo experience even if you're willing to pay for a Bentley one. "The order ... says that if you are supposed to have comparable experiences from a provider you can't leapfrog and get preferential treatment ... It does not say you cannot have a more robust experience ... if your pockets are deeper than mine."
  • The market will adapt. Yes, the market will react once the rules take effect (when they're put in the Federal Register). "But then it settles down. Then we all recalibrate, and then we conduct our business under the new set of rules." She points to activity around the 2010 ruling as a good indicator that the market will remain robust. While industry watchers clamored that the ruling would stifle investment, the latest U.S. telecom figures show that between then and 2013 ISPs spent $212 billion on infrastructure and that the number of LTE-enabled devices has grown from 17,000 to 127 million. "The market adjusts. We adjust. We look at the rules, and we figure out how to continue to invest, continue to innovate, and that was, at the end of the day, what we were trying to do."

Defensive? Maybe. Passionate? Absolutely.

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