FCC’s Carr bashes plan to reinstate net neutrality

LAS VEGAS – FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr started his presentation at MWC Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon addressing the “big elephant in the room,” – the proposed return of net neutrality rules – which he sized up as a big mistake.

Before he launched into all the reasons it’s wrong, he quipped how before arriving at the show, he had prepared remarks about how pleased he was that the Biden Administration apparently had agreed with him about taking a light-touch regulatory approach to broadband. 

Carr, a Republican, said he had to toss that speech out the window and give a “very different speech” since FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel on Tuesday announced that the agency will revisit the hot topic of net neutrality. Rosenworcel released a proposal to reinstate net neutrality regulations the day after new Commissioner Anna Gomez was sworn in to her post, finally establishing a Democratic majority at the commission.  

Carr recalled the last time the U.S. went through this debate in 2016/2017 and said it’s hard to describe the rhetoric that dominated the conversation back then, with headlines talking about the “end of the internet as we know it.”

Since then, the U.S. has invested a lot in narrowing the broadband gap, including during Covid, and improving internet services, he said.  

He alluded to remarks by former FCC Republican Chairman Ajit Pai about Title II regulation being a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.

Carr argued that their current time at the FCC would be better spent on addressing issues like the lack of mid-band spectrum in the U.S. pipeline, especially with the World Radiocommunications Conference in Dubai coming up in November.

Industry response

On the show floor and elsewhere, sentiment among a smattering of wireless industry executives veered toward Carr’s stance more than the other way around.

Kyle Malady, CEO of Verizon Business, was asked on the keynote stage on Wednesday about Verizon’s stance on net neutrality. “For us, this isn’t needed. I think we’re a company that we listen to what our customers want from us. We provide broadband service to them the way they want. It’s a competitive market,” he said.

Now, “it’s a little bit almost like it’s a theoretical problem that could happen and we need to regulate it and right now I think it’s unneeded to be honest with you.”

See more on Malady’s views about net neutrality and specifically, how it relates to network slicing in this Fierce Wireless interview.

Interpretations may vary, but in general, “we certainly believe that standard network management and to be able to offer a certain level of service, not to a single customer but to any customer that pays for it or signs up for it, is not a violation of net neutrality,” said Alok Shah, VP of Networks Strategy at Samsung Electronics America, on the sidelines of MWC on Wednesday. “It’s when you’re offering a specific service to a specific company and restricting others from getting that same offering – that’s when I think it starts to become a challenge.”

When it comes to offering all broadcasters the opportunity to get a certain level of service, “then I don’t see an issue there,” he said. “I think it’s when you start to pick favorites that you start to run afoul of net neutrality.”

Earlier this month, T-Mobile President of Technology Ulf Ewaldsson told Fierce that it’s going to be very important that regulators understand network slicing is not about net neutrality. It’s about the ability to get more bandwidth if you need it, and the enterprise pays for it.

Shah agreed a lot of it’s about education and making sure consumers get the best and fairest possible experience.

“It’s always been a topic in our industry. It comes and goes and comes back and I think the industry believes that we’re doing things the right way,” Shah said.