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January 28, 2015

VoIP Veterans at ITEXPO Discuss Net Neutrality, Title II Reclassification

We’ve been discussing net neutrality for many years. Recently, the debate over this controversial topic has begun heating up again.

Net neutrality (News - Alert) moved back into the spotlight when President Obama laid out his plan for what he called a free and open Internet. And the President has redirected the FCC’s efforts on this front, inspiring the commission to address net neutrality under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Title II gives the FCC authority to regulate telecommunications providers as utilities or common carriers. And now the President is asking the FCC to reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service.

On its surface, this would seem to be good news, but there are many companies and individuals both in the incumbent service provider and over-the-top services camps that don’t like the direction this is headed.

Facilities-based service providers say such reclassification of broadband could lead to extra costs for them, regulation of their interconnection deals, and the creation of a slippery slope that could mean more broadband and Internet regulation in general.

Others, including a handful of speakers at this week’s ITEXPO (News - Alert) Miami, note that any time legislators and regulators get involved in the complex world of communications, there’s the potential for confusion and overreach.

Title II as it’s now being discussed is bad for entrepreneurship, serial entrepreneur and VoIP pioneer Jeff Pulver (News - Alert) said during the net neutrality panel today at ITEXPO Miami.  This is an example of a situation in which “the medicine is worse than the disease,” said Pulver, who is now associated with an organization called Zula.

The best thing the FCC ever did was to get out of the way and let VoIP flourish, he said, suggesting the commission should do the same in this case. A better way, he suggested, is to enable business leaders to work directly with one another to find solutions.

Pulver pointed out that Title II comes from rules created back in 1934, far before the dawn of broadband. If Title II is applied in this case, he added, consumers and innovation will suffer, as will the communications industry and the economy of as a whole, because the marketplace will shrink.

“Negativity will brew negativity,” he said.

Craig Walker (News - Alert), another veteran of communications who is now affiliated with Switch Communications, said Title II scares him too.

Interestingly, Pulver and Walker are over-the-top guys, yet they are now on the opposite side of the Title II issue from OTT poster child Neflix. As Toby Garger, an attorney with EZtax, noted, the net neutrality debate was refueled in part fby the paid prioritization deal struck between Netflix and Verizon after Netflix complained its traffic was being throttled.

In addition to Garger, Pulver, and Walker, industry veterans Michael Tribolet (News - Alert) (now CEO of YIPTV); Glenn Richards of Pillsbury Law; and Andy Abramson of Comunicano Inc. were on the panel. Richards said the way President Obama intervened with the FCC, suggesting the commission leverage Title II to address net neutrality, is unprecedented in his 30 years practicing communications law.




Edited by Alisen Downey
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