Don’t Let the Doublespeak Fool You: When CLECs Say “Packet Mode,” They Mean “Regulate the Internet”

by on December 10, 2012 · 7 comments

When CLECs say “packet mode,” don’t let the doublespeak fool you. They are asking for heavy-handed economic regulation of the Internet itself, just like many countries at the ITU.

Last week, I wrote about the failure of the CLECs to provide consumers with the additional choices in communications services Congress had envisioned in 1996. I noted that, now that the antiquated telephone network is about to sunset, CLECs must bear responsibility for their own decisions to forgo investment in their own infrastructure and rely on lines leased with temporary government subsidies. The desperation of CLECs to avoid this reality is apparent in their use of doublespeak to conceal their true intent: convincing the FCC to regulate the Internet like plain old telephone service.

CLECs apparently realize they are on a collision course with U.S. policy and advocacy abroad. The official position of the United States on this very issue is: don’t regulate the Internet like plain old telephone service. The U.S. is vigorously arguing that position right now at the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12) in Dubai, where the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is considering amending the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs). These regulations govern the terms of international interconnection of plain old telephone networks (i.e., “telecommunications” networks), including payment terms.

In its August 2012 proposal for WCIT-12, the U.S. stated that “the Internet has evolved to operate in a separate and distinct environment” that is “beyond the scope” of regulations governing plain old telephone service. The U.S. also “believes that the existing multi-stakeholder institutions, incorporating industry and civil society, have functioned effectively and will continue to ensure the continued vibrancy of the Internet and its positive impact on individuals and society.” Based on these views, the U.S. stated that it “will not support proposals that would increase the exercise of control over Internet governance or content.” Last Wednesday the House of Representatives emphasized the point, passing unanimously (397-0) a resolution expressing the sense of Congress that it is “the consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and preserve the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet today.”

The Administration, Congress, industry, and public interest groups all recognize that “bringing interconnection between ISPs under the same regulatory regime as interconnection between phone networks would cause enormous harm.” Yet, that is exactly what CLECs are asking the FCC to do using the rhetoric of “packet mode” technologies. As I detailed last week, current law gives CLECs the right to lease antiquated POTS networks at government subsidized, below market rates, which the CLECS use to “cherry pick” highly profitable business customers. CLECs want this same right to apply to Internet infrastructure built with new investment in a competitive communications marketplace.

CLECs know that this type of heavy-handed price regulation of the Internet flies in the face of consensus U.S. policy and rational economic theory. So they’ve stopped referring to the Internet as the Internet and turned to the doublespeak of jargon. In CLEC jargon, the Internet is “a kind of packet mode technology.” Their illogical syllogism goes like this:

  • The Internet is a packet mode network.
  • Some packet mode networks do not use Internet Protocol.
  • Regulating packet mode networks is not regulating the Internet.

They apparently believe that using the jargon of “packet mode” networks will be sufficient to fool the FCC into thinking that the Internet hasn’t changed the economics or structure of the communications marketplace.

CLECs would like the FCC to forget its contrary conclusion in the National Broadband Plan that the “high-speed Internet is transforming the landscape of America more rapidly and more pervasively than earlier infrastructure networks.” It is the transformational nature of the Internet and its decentralized, multi-stakeholder governance model that make it unique. Burdening the decentralized Internet with legacy economic regulations designed for monopoly telephone networks would destroy the very foundations of the Internet’s success. CLEC doublespeak can’t change that fact, and it won’t fool the FCC.

When CLECs say “packet mode,” don’t let the doublespeak fool you. They are asking for heavy-handed economic regulation of the Internet itself, just like many countries at the ITU. Policymakers in the U.S. clearly oppose economic regulation of the Internet internationally, and to have any hope of winning on that issue, U.S. policymakers can’t impose economic regulations on the Internet domestically. CLECs would be better served if they abandoned the doublespeak and started doubling down on their own investments in the all-IP infrastructure of the future. The doublespeak is just a distraction.

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