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Court Preview: Activists Expose Net Neutrality’s Biggest Legal Problems

Do not let the FCC’s likely unlawful means of broadband Internet regulation, i.e. Title II, distract you from the additional likelihood that two primary ends of supposed net neutrality “policy canon” i.e. bans against “paid prioritization” and “two-sided markets” (only users should pay), are also likely unlawful, even under Title II, sans new legislation.

A preview of oral arguments December 4 before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in the legal challenge to the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order warrants more than the already well-covered standard comparison of both sides legal arguments over the legality of Title II.

In the 2014 Verizon v. FCC decision, that overturned much of the FCC’s net neutrality “effort to compel broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic the same regardless of source,” Judge David Tatel’s starting point was what does the FCC want to compel from others and does it have the legal authority and latitude to do so – sans new legislation.

(This analysis assumes the near obvious that Judge Tatel will lead and write this decision.)   

The FCC’s Abjectly Illegitimate Premise for More Cable Regulation

There are troubling signals that the FCC is gearing up to further increase regulation of cable -- on top of the extra-legal new utility regulation the FCC already did in its 2015 Open Internet Order. 

What is profoundly troubling is the abject illegitimacy of their premise for more regulation of cable, i.e. the FCC’s new arbitrary and capricious definition of broadband that illegitimately redefined long-recognized, strong broadband competition -- out of existence with the stroke of a pen.

So what are the signals of more cable regulation? Two speeches from the FCC Chairman, one from the FCC General Counsel, another from the DOJ Antitrust Chief, a variety of Hill and edge-industry entreaties to regulate cable more via new MVPD or ALLVID regulatory proceedings, (but of course without regulating favored edge providers), and an explosion of new opposition to the proposed Charter-Time-Warner merger (by the exact same cast of characters whose opposition doomed the Comcast-Time-Warner merger).

This broad simultaneous level of focused regulatory chatter and organized activity is not coincidental, but highly-orchestrated and abjectly illegitimate.

Why is more cable regulation abjectly illegitimate?   

Will Government Spectrum Permissions Throttle 4G Evolution to 5G Wireless?

To try to justify mandating Title II utility regulation of broadband and the blocking of the Comcast-Time Warner acquisition, the Administration and FCC had to gerrymander broadband definitions to reach their political goal that wireless broadband service not be considered an official competitor to wireline broadband service.

Never mind the obvious: that the nearly three quarters of Americans who use a smartphone know  that one can functionally do most everything one wants on a mobile smartphone/tablet/laptop that one can do on a wireline connection. Also never mind: tens of millions of Americans who use only wireless broadband for all their Internet needs.   

To try to justify preempting State limitations of gigabit muni-broadband build-outs and its cheerleading for Government Owned Networks (GON) to politically and economically devalue commercial broadband competition, the government had to ensure that the wireless industry could not create four more very-high-speed competitors to wireline cable and telco broadband providers.

It did so by unilaterally changing Federal spectrum policy to starve and limit the amount of licensed and unlicensed spectrum available to wireless users long-term, because for smartphone users -- spectrum is speed. Limit spectrum, limit speed, to maintain the charade that wireless broadband does not compete with wireline broadband.

Municipalities: Broadband Is Not a ‘Core Utility’

It is timely to fact check the Federal Government’s storyline that broadband is a ‘core utility,’ given a new White House report that directs municipalities that broadband is a “core utility… like water, sewer and electricity;” and given that a senior FCC official recently encouraged local municipalities at the NATOA conference to build their own local broadband infrastructure with the FCC’s backing now that the FCC has claimed the legal authority to preempt State laws limiting municipal broadband.    

Google’s Internet Association Hypocritically Begs Digital Protectionism

The juxtaposition of Google tacitly accusing the EU with “digital protectionism” and “discrimination” as the EU’s Digital Chief, Günther Oettinger, visits D.C. and Silicon Valley, while the Google-created Internet Association this week asks for U.S. protection from ISP “discrimination” in an appeals court brief in support of the FCC’s Open Internet order – exposes exceptional hypocrisy.

Antitrust and privacy regulators around the world weren’t born yesterday. They know Google and its online platform allies want it both ways – manipulating policy to advantage them and disadvantage their potential competitors.

The FCC’s Reasonable Unreasonableness? – A Satire

The FCC’s 218 page “brief” defending its Open Internet Order begs a big question.

How many times is it “reasonable” for any agency to assert that their core legal arguments are “reasonable” before they sound unreasonable? A few? Several? A dozen?

Of the 19 core statutory arguments in the summary defense of the FCC’s Open Internet order, TWELVE defend the order by declaring the FCC’s legal judgment was “reasonable.”

When arguing in court that the FCC has the statutory authority to common-carrier-regulate the Internet for the first time, shouldn’t the FCC be able to declare at least once in their summary defense: “the law says,” “precedent supports,” or at least “Congress intended?”  

Google as Global Government

Google, the Internet’s lone  superpower, increasingly governs its borderless virtual geography like a supranational virtual state, with the power to increasingly arbitrage actual nations’ sovereignty.

The FCC Built its Net Neutrality House on Legal Sand

The FCC’s latest legal brief defending its Open Internet Order, will represent the FCC’s “strongest possible” legal arguments for its Title II net neutrality case – a vainglorious legal fortress.

In reality, the FCC’s legal case is closer to a magnificent beach sandcastle.

Its downfall will be that its case is sand, on top of a sand foundation -- that won’t be able to weather the elements intact.

Consider some of the elements the FCC’s sandcastle legal case must withstand.

The term “net neutrality,” or direct Congressional authority to mandate the FCC’s concept of “net neutrality,” is not found in law.

Unlicensed Spectrum Needs No New FCC Regulation

Everyone should have the freedom to innovate and compete in America, the land of opportunity.

There should be no innovation or competition double standard where government politically picks winners and losers by rigging competition via denying some companies the freedom to innovate and compete spectrally while granting it to their competitors.

With radio spectrum, America has created different but symbiotic spectrum models. One is licensed spectrum where spectrum for exclusive use is auctioned to the highest bidder. The other is unlicensed spectrum where anyone is free to share the same spectrum if they play nice and do not interfere with other spectrum sharers’ use. These models have never been either/or; they have always been free and open to use separately or together to maximize innovative, commercial, and competitive opportunity.    

The Market’s Ignoring Google’s Many New FCC Common Carrier Liabilities

I.  Summary

Google’s market capitalization has approached a half trillion dollars as its stock hit an all time high, because of a positive quarterly profit surprise and because Google’s new CFO signaled that “Google cost discipline” may no longer be an investment oxymoron.

The market appears to be ignoring that Google’s legal status as a corporation changed in 2Q15 to an FCC Title II regulated common carrier that is subject to very strict and preemptive behavioral non-discrimination requirements to mitigate potential abuse of market power on Google’s network -- per the FCC’s new Open Internet Order which reclassified Internet infrastructure as Title II common carriage regulated to enforce strict net neutrality.

This analysis of Google’s many new common carrier liabilities has four parts: I) the investment and regulatory relevance of Google being a common carrier; II) the evidence of Google being a major Internet access player via the surprising size of its Internet infrastructure, communications, traffic carriage, and market power; III) a listing and explanation of Google’s many new FCC common carrier liabilities, including nine potential net neutrality violations, three privacy, and three transparency; and IV) a conclusion about what this could mean for Google and its valuation going forward.


Q&A One Pager Debunking Net Neutrality Myths