As part of a recent change in public posture on the issue of Net Neutrality sparked by the White House, the FCC is now gathering public feedback about the idea of regulating all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) under Title II of the Communications Act. While cable companies are vehemently against this new framework of government regulation for obvious economic reasons, there is an even greater danger to their nearly unilateral grip on broadband dollars as Google and other new entrants may be able to turn this change in regulatory structure into a way to gain greater access to existing infrastructure.
Google filed a public comment with the FCC emphasizing the fact that regulation under Title II must also confer the benefits of that Act along with the well-known responsibilities, and that includes full access to utility poles and other existing infrastructure that many industry pundits have long regarded as an artificial barrier of entry preventing new broadband providers from entering the ISP marketplace.
The FCC has already recognized that access to poles, ducts, conduits, and rights-of-way owned or controlled by utilities is essential for broadband deployment according to Austin Schlick, Google’s director of communications law who stated “Forbearance from allowing [broadband Internet] providers access to available infrastructure under Section 224 would… maintain a substantial barrier to network deployment by new providers such as Google Fiber.”
ARS Technica also reported its findings after speaking with Cable Industry Lobbyists who pointed out many scenarios that would be catastrophic for monopolistic providers, but sound very intriguing to many consumers. Chief among those findings was the admission by Cable Industry insiders that a change to Title II regulation could also lead to “rate setting” requirements being imposed on ISPs, similar to the way other utilities are now managed by governmental standards and practices.
Whether this change is really going to happen or is simply a strong bargaining chip to be used as leverage in the battle to keep the Internet neutral remains to be seen, but everyone will be watching these maneuvers in 2015 and in the run up to the next national elections in 2016.