Whose network is the network now?

31 July 2016 by Steve Blum
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No network to see here. Move along.

One of the six requests for another appellate court review of the Federal Communications Commission decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service came from the mobile industry’s lobbying front, CTIA. It objects to being under the same regulatory umbrella as plain old telephone service, as do some of the other appellants.

CTIA’s argument hinges on what the definition of public switched network really is – under federal law, mobile broadband can only be regulated as a common carrier service when connected to it. The FCC said, and the first appeals court agreed, that it means the Internet as much as it does the plain old telephone network. Not so, says CTIA, public switched network refers only to the old 10-digit dial up voice network.

Then it starts to get weird.

A tablet, for example, isn’t connected to the public switched network because you can’t make a telephone call on it. Well you can, argues CTIA, but only if you download an app, but that tablet can otherwise connect to the rest of the Internet automatically.

Yeah. Because someone, somewhere along the line installed an app – a browser – first.

The next, and deepest, rhetorical rabbit hole CTIA jumps into is the argument, in effect, that because you can’t dial into a website or a thermostat using plain old telephone service, the Internet isn’t on the network. Except that based on CTIA’s numbers – “billions of IP-enabled devices” – it’s the phones that aren’t on the network. It’s hundreds of millions of telephones versus billions – tens of billions – of Internet-enabled devices.

The network in question used to be called the public switched telephone network. When congress dropped the word “telephone” out of it, it stopped being about dialling friends on the kitchen phone, and started being about ubiquitous networking, via any technology. Whether it’s voice or data, it’s all one, big network now.

Here are the six petitions asking the entire D.C. appeals court to rehear challenges to FCC’s broadband common carrier/title II decision:

Alamo Broadband
CTIA – mobile industry association
NCTA – cable industry association
USTA – landline industry association