Among those who consider themselves in the winner’s corner after Thursday’s FCC vote: the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), which had argued for a “light-touch” regulatory approach to the internet.
The FCC, as expected, voted along party lines to end the rules former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler passed in 2015 designed to ensure a fair and open internet. At the most basic level, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said that by repealing the rules, they’re restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the internet for most of its existence.
And while the vote set off plenty of alarm bells across the tech industry, it garnered a good share of “yays” in the telecom industry. CTIA praised the move, as did the aforementioned WISPA, which represents more than 800 members.
“Let us be clear: The internet was free and open before the FCC imposed more onerous, one-size-fits-all rules in 2015, and it will be free and open when we return to a lighter-touch regulatory framework,” said Chuck Hogg, chairman of WISPA, in a statement.
Hogg went on to say that WISPA’s members do not block, throttle, or accept payments to prioritize internet traffic. “WISPA agrees that ISPs should clearly disclose their terms of service, disclose their network management practices, and protect their customers’ private information; and our members do. All of this will continue under the FCC framework adopted today,” he said.
Most U.S. WISPs are small and medium-sized businesses serving hundreds of customers in rural areas, with fewer than 10 employees each. Having to adhere to onerous government regulations imposes compliance costs and hassles that the smaller companies don’t want, according to WISPA.
On several occasions before the Dec. 14 vote, the group informed the commission that the 2015 rules were diverting members’ resources away from their investment in underserved areas. They also described those rules as ones that were designed to treat all internet providers like large monopoly utilities.
“WISPA appreciates Chairman Pai’s commitment to right-sizing the regulatory framework; and we will continue working with the FCC and other stakeholders to develop public policies that enhance investment and consumer choices in underserved areas,” Hogg said.
Separately, the co-founder of Mimosa, a member of WISPA and several other organizations, issued a statement calling for the tech industry to unite and adopt new tactics to overcome the country’s broadband problems and elevate the digital economy.
“The biggest harm to the internet today comes from a fundamental lack of broadband competition,” said Jaime Fink, co-founder and CPO at Mimosa Networks. “Fifty percent of consumers in America have only one, or no choice at all of superfast broadband. Without any competition and no guarantee of net neutrality, there is little pressure on the mega-ISPs to compete on price, improve their networks and ensure fair treatment to all types of traffic. This must change.
“Since extending fiber to the majority of homes in the U.S. is not cost-effective, new wireless technologies should be considered as an alternative. This approach enables competitive service providers to rapidly bypass the cable and DSL monopolies to challenge the mega-ISPs. This is only possible if the FCC takes action to open the radio airwaves fairly to ISPs of all size,” he added. “A reform in radio spectrum policy will ultimately prove to be the best solution for our country to foster competitive options, extend broadband across the digital divide, and protect American consumers.”
Mimosa, which provides fixed wireless solutions that enable service providers to connect hard-to-reach rural homes and businesses, is also co-chair of the Broadband Access Coalition. That organization has filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the FCC seeking to add a new, licensed, point-to-multipoint fixed wireless service in the 3700-4200 MHz band. They say the licensing scheme and operating rules proposed in the petition will enable gigabit and near-gigabit broadband service in rural and underserved areas.
Of course, the fight over net neutrality promises to live on, as both Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel vowed to keep the fight alive. The vote faces threatened legal challenges, and lawmakers have promised to introduce legislation.
In a Brookings Institute post, Wheeler called the FCC’s move today a “brilliant sleight of hand” because it’s moving regulatory jurisdiction from the FCC to the Federal Trade Commission, which has no rulemaking authority and no telecom expertise, thereby giving the big internet companies like Comcast, Charter, Verizon and AT&T exactly what they want.