Mike Montgomery, CALinnovates: Verizon Sees The Light On Net Neutrality But It’s Too Little Too Late

By Mike Montgomery

Verizon’s most recent statement on net neutrality is really the height of hypocrisy. To be clear, I completely agree with the no blocking and no throttling principles outlined in the post. Yet their sudden enthusiasm to ban zero rating services and grant the FCC power to chill innovation through antiquated regulation will ultimately harm broadband investment and consumer access to modern 21st century Internet-based services and applications. It’s curious that Verizon has recently found religion on this single-most divisive and long-lasting tech public policy issue of this century.

For the past six years my organization, CALinnovates, has been pushing for a third way on net neutrality: laws that support an open, free Internet but are affirmatively enshrined into law by Congress instead of mandated by the FCC and are subject to change every 4–8 years. Unfortunately, we’re currently in legal no-man’s land, and, as we predicted, the rules are now going through the legal meat grinder as we are essentially legislating through litigation.

As we predicted, the FCC has set in motion a process where tech policy is set through litigation, rather than through collaborative and publicly vetted legislation. This creates many problems. Waiting means incredible uncertainty for anyone building a business that might be affected by changing net neutrality rules (in other words, everyone building a business on the Internet).

No one knows what the courts will decide. The legal process is, by definition, uncertain. And we’re in the middle of a heated presidential race.

The next president will appoint a new FCC Chairman and there’s no guarantee that he or she will see the issue through the same lens as Chairman Wheeler, nor are we guaranteed the same political makeup of the Commission, which is currently a 3–2 Democratic majority. In short, the FCC’s decision last February to regulate the Internet like a utility didn’t cement a new open Internet framework, it just extended the period of confusion and uncertainty that may benefit lobbyists and lawyers while harming consumers, entrepreneurs, and everyone else.

With its splashy statement Verizon shows that it finally understands this, but here’s the truth: Verizon is a big part of the reason we’re in this mess in the first place.

In 2010, the FCC adopted common sense rules dealing with central tenets of net neutrality. The rules created transparency and prohibited traffic blocking without resorting to Title II. CALinnovates supported this move at the time and even praised the FCC for taking the high road.

Verizon did not agree with our position on this. Tone deaf, the phone company employed some complicated legal maneuvers to stop the FCC from implementing the new rules.

Their plan worked (before it totally backfired). Verizon won and the court sent the rules back to the FCC to be reevaluated. Put between a rock and a hard place (and with an army of Internet users calling for blood) the FCC took the easy road and simply decided that the Internet is a utility that should be regulated just like your sewer, water and electricity providers.

We all know how much innovation flows from these entities — none. And there’s a real chance that under Title II, we’re looking at a similar future for the Internet, the source of nearly all technological innovation in today’s digital age.

Verizon created this mess and now they’re trying to claim a degree of moral superiority in the net neutrality battle. In its blog post, Verizon said, “We can’t predict how the court will rule. But if history is any guide, we can expect more conflict and more uncertainty over the scope of the FCC’s authority and whether the current statute provides the tools the FCC needs to adopt these rules. The only way to avoid this depressing redux is for Congress to act.” Yes, Verizon, we can hear your now — but that’s what we’ve been saying all along while you were sicking your high priced litigators on the FCC in an attempt to overturn net neutrality rules that led to a broken policy debate where only one of the extreme positions could win.

Verizon should be apologizing to the American public for their reckless policy decision, rather than pretending they were here all along.

It’s hard not to feel a certain sense of bewilderment at Verizon’s floundering statement. If the company doesn’t like the way things have turned out it has only itself to blame. Unfortunately, it appears that only the broadband economy and innovation ecosystem will suffer from Verizon’s ability to compound one set of errors with another.

Mike Montgomery is the Executive Director at CALinnovates.