In a statement released yesterday, Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn indicated her overall support of the FCC’s order on net neutrality, but expressed areas where she believed the new rules could be strengthened.
Ms. Clyburn, a Democrat and the sole African American on the regulatory panel, expressed her concerns that the rules do not extend to wireless broadband access providers. “There is evidence in our record that some communities, namely African American and Hispanic, use and rely upon mobile Internet access much more than other socio-economic groups,” Ms. Clyburn said.
According to an earlier report by Pew, 59% of all adult Americans go online using a cell phone or lap top computer. Sixty-four percent of African Americans, however, go online via wireless devices. In addition, while 80% of whites have a cell phone, a higher proportion of African Americans, 87%, have cell phones.
Ms. Clyburn also expressed her preference for a total ban on pay-for-priority arrangements. Pay-for-priority arrangements allow content providers to pay broadband access providers for the privilege of insuring that the content provider’s data is sent ahead of unpaid traffic. Where these arrangements are challenged, there will have to be a demonstration that the arrangements are not harmful to the public interest and innovation, Ms. Clyburn noted.
Ms. Clyburn raised the issue of equity, particularly as it regards open access to all end users. While appreciating the order’s requirement for open access to residents, small businesses, schools, libraries, coffee shops, and bookstores, Ms. Clyburn noted that the order may not have gone far enough to ensure access to end users who do not fall into these categories.
Reclassification of broadband access services as a telecommunications service was left out of the order as expected by those who observe the FCC. Ms. Clyburn appeared to hint at this omission, expressing her preference for the FCC’s legal authority over broadband Internet access. Ms. Clyburn acknowledged that the legal fight over the FCC’s authority on broadband access is just beginning.
A clash with the Congress may be around the corner as well. In reaction to yesterday’s FCC vote, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressed his intent, via legislation, to turn back what he terms as the Obama administration’s attempt to take over the Internet. Ironically, the FCC’s decision to exclude a reclassification of broadband access as a telecommunications service may temper attempts to implement legislation to overturn yesterday’s order.
Ms. Clyburn added that while the rules may not extend to wireless broadband providers, these providers do not in essence get a free pass when it comes to adhering to the requirements that fixed wire line providers operate under.