By Rob Pegoraro
Friday, January 21, 2011; 9:19 AM
My first reaction to yesterday's news that Verizon is suing the Federal Communications Commission to overturn its pending, half-heared net-neutrality rules was one of a Verizon customer.
To wit: Okay, so you're going to spend some of my money to fight a minimal set of regulations written to stop you from tampering with my Internet access? How is that supposed to make me feel comfortable doing business with you?
(Note to Verizon: You are not only an enormous telecom conglomerate, you are The Phone Company. You don't get to say "trust me.")
Then I got more annoyed.
The regulations that Verizon regards as an affront to the Constitution match up closely with the proposal that Verizon published with Google in August--a suggested regulatory framework that many people, myself included, criticized for its minimal restrictions on wireless broadband services.
Take a look at Ars Technica's chart comparing the Verizon-Google proposal to the FCC's upcoming framework. The only notable daylight between the two comes in the category of wireless, where the FCC's rules would prohibit carriers from blocking access to legal Web sites or to voice and video applications that compete with their own services--things that Verizon doesn't do.
Not only is Verizon refusing to take "yes" for an answer, it's using a questionable legal theory to file suit in the same federal court that threw out earlier net-neutrality rules involving Comcast--and even wants to be heard by the same judges who rules in that earlier case.
Bearing in mind that I am not a lawyer, I understand that there is a worthwhile argument to be had over the FCC's authority to write net-neutrality rules. In this case, the commission acted without a specific say-so from Congress--something requested in the Verizon-Google proposal, but which was also never going to happen even in the prior Congress. Instead, the FCC says it finds authority in existing provisions of telecom law, but its reasoning may not be far off from what got rejected in the Comcast case.
But Verizon is not a lawyer either. The legal footing of a particular set of regulations doesn't change their bottom-line effect on the company.
And not only did Verizon think that its proposed set of rules would be good for business last summer, it did so as recently as 2:25 p.m. Thursday, when a post on its public-policy blog favorably cited those suggestions.
You could say this company was for net neutrality before it was against it. But the prospect of the FCC's authority on this issue not being fenced in by a strict Congressional mandate seems to have made the entire enterprise unacceptable.
Meanwhile, I'd like to think that it would be fitting if the FCC responded by returning to the regulatory strategy it should have adopted in the first place: putting broadband Internet services back under a simplified form of the "Title II" common-carrier regulation that most operated under until 2005.
But if the FCC couldn't find the gumption to choose that more aggressive but more legally grounded option before, why would it now?