The Federal Communications Commission started down the road to roll back its previous decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service last week. A draft decision to open up a process to reverse its 2015 decision to reclassify Internet access (yes, it’s incredibly bureaucratic) from being an information service to a telecommunications service will be taken up by commissioners next month.
Information services are value added services. Facebook adds value to the your bits by processing that data and connecting it every which way with what your friends send them. With your consent, of course. Telecommunications services, on the other hand, are pure pipelines: you push the send button on an email and it lands in your friend’s in box just the way you sent it.
So, let’s say you buy Internet access from Comcast. You plug your computer into a spigot on your cable box, compose an email and fire it off. The content – what you intended to say – ends up at its destination with zero alterations. Comcast doesn’t shuffle it around to all of your other friends to see if they like it or not, as Facebook might. Nor does it push it out for all to see, as Twitter does. All Comcast does is take the bytes – the information you have digitally crafted – and transmit it unchanged to the destination you’ve designated.
That’s a telecommunications service. A transportation service. In other words, a common carrier service.
The FCC’s proposed re-definition runs completely counter to that simple truth. The draft claims that “Internet service providers do not appear to offer ‘telecommunications,’ i.e., ‘the transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received,’ to their users”.
That’s nonsense. And the draft decision’s arguments used to support it – for example, that “routing decisions are based on the architecture of the network, not on consumers’ instructions” – are equally irrelevant.