Sprint splits from industry, is OK with Title II for net neutrality as long as wireless has flexibility

In explaining its position on the FCC's forthcoming net neutrality rules, Sprint (NYSE: S) argues that it does not matter whether the commission reclassifies broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, as long as mobile broadband is given a great deal of flexibility. That is a split with CTIA and much of the telecommunications industry, which has fiercely opposed a Title II reclassification, arguing it will harm investment.

In a Jan. 15 letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Sprint CTO Stephen Bye noted that the wireless voice industry flourished under a Title II regime with a great deal of forbearance--basically the FCC abstaining from enforcing most Title II rules. Bye also noted that Sprint invested in mobile data services before the FCC had classified such services as information services.

"So long as the FCC continues to allow wireless carriers to manage our networks and differentiate our products, Sprint will continue to invest in data networks regardless of whether they are regulated by Title II, Section 706, or some other light touch regulatory regime," Bye wrote.

CTIA and much of the wireless industry has called for such "light touch" wireless net neutrality regulations but wants the rules drawn under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act.

In terms of what net neutrality rules Sprint specifically wants, a recent presentation the carrier made to the FCC spells it out in black and white. Sprint thinks the FCC should re-adopt the 2010 "no blocking" rule for mobile broadband, but said that wireless carriers "must be able to define their services by prohibiting applications that are not suited for their respective networks like Peer to Peer file sharing or applications that bypass billing for services."

Sprint also thinks carriers "need to be able to control the devices permitted on their networks to ensure quality customer experience and mobile device and network functionality." Further, Sprint argues the FCC "should adopt a broad definition of 'reasonable network management practices' that takes into account network architecture and technology." Sprint thinks that for mobile broadband providers the FCC "should adopt a presumption that a network management practice is reasonable if it is applied to similarly situated users (devices, price plans), applications, and/or content in a nondiscriminatory manner and is intended to protect the network, alleviate congestion, ensure a quality user experience, and/or ensure equitable use of network resources."

In Sprint's view, the FCC should give mobile broadband providers "some certainty" by making it clear that a practice is reasonable if "it does not result in the favoring or exclusivity of content vertically affiliated with mobile carriers," it does not "have a demonstrably negative impact on competition among mobile carriers," and it does not "have a demonstrably negative effect on public discourse or civic engagement."