AT&T, SoftBank, T-Mobile execs push for wireless carve-out in net neutrality guidelines

LAS VEGAS--Executives from a handful of the nation's top wireless carriers unanimously rejected arguments that wireless networks should fall under the same net neutrality guidelines as wireline networks. The comments are notable in light of a speech this week from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler hinting that the agency is considering rules that would apply much more strict open Internet guidelines onto wireless carriers than it did in 2010.

Leonard Cali, senior vice president of global public policy for AT&T (NYSE: T), said that applying the same net neutrality rules onto wireless as wireline would "chill innovation." Cali made his comments here at the 4G World event, held in conjunction with the CTIA Super Mobility Week trade show. Cali argued that applying stricter net neutrality guidelines onto wireless carriers would cause them to either seek FCC approval for virtually every action, or would cause them to pay fines for net neutrality infractions--either way, he said such a move would slow the development of the market.

"It's an incredibly complicated system," argued Bruce Gottlieb, executive vice president of legal and regulatory affairs for SoftBank in Washington, D.C. Gottlieb said that, during the past few years, device and platform companies like Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL), Samsung Electronics and Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) have gained as much if not more control over the mobile user's experience than wireless carriers, a situation that casts questions over any FCC effort to impose net neutrality guidelines on wireless carriers and not others in the value chain.

Earlier this week Wheeler hinted that the agency may take a stricter approach to its forthcoming net neutrality rules for wireless. "The basic issue that is raised is whether the old assumptions upon which the 2010 rules were based match new realities," Wheeler noted, explaining that LTE is now a widespread technology, unlike in 2010, and today there are far more smartphones and tablets on wireless networks.

"The core difference between fixed networks and mobile networks has not changed," argued Luisa Lancetti, chief counsel of law and policy with T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS).

In its original guidelines, the FCC drew a line between wired and wireless networks, leaving room for wireless operators to have more flexibility--a "reasonable" amount of control over network management--in how they can manage and control their networks due to the limited amount of spectrum and bandwidth they have to use.

"Our Open Internet proceeding will look closely at both the question of what is 'reasonable' and the related subject of how network management practices can be transparent to consumers and edge providers," Wheeler said.

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