BlackBerry CEO John Chen questioned proposals by the Obama administration and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to address the issue of net neutrality through the reclassification of telecoms operators.
The proposals, made in November last year, aim to reclassify mobile and fixed telecoms operators as Title II services or ‘common carriers’.
Title II refers to the second part of the US Telecommunications Act which defines ‘common carriers’ as those that were running a public utility and cannot abuse their position and discriminate against people.
Advocates of net neutrality want to stop these operators creating prioritised “fast lanes” on their networks and from throttling excessive usage of bandwidth.
In a blog post, Chen noted that supporters of the reclassification argue that with broadband now a key telecommunications utility, it should be regulated under Title II to ensure sufficient protections for consumers.
Operators, however, argue that such limitations would reduce their incentive to invest in infrastructure to carry more traffic. There are also concerns that Title II classification could mean that the FCC could regulate wireless rates in the future.
But given the highly-competitive nature of the wireless industry in the US, and the inherent bandwidth limitations of dependency on spectrum, Chen said reclassifying telecoms operators “seems excessive”.
Instead, the BlackBerry chief said regulators should consider existing rules related to the C-Block broadband spectrum auctioned in 2008, which he said, “fairly reconciles the needs of carriers and consumers”.
The regulations, which Chen stressed were advocated by Google, mandate the principles of no blocking and no locking, “which have proven to be a solid model for wireless carrier neutrality regulation”.
No blocking prohibits mobile operators from restricting consumers from using devices, applications or lawful content on the C Block network — unless it is needed to “manage or protect the network for the benefit of all other users”.
No locking prevents operators from disabling features on devices they sell to customers or from tweaking devices to prohibit use on rival networks.
Chen said with Verizon winning the entire C block in 2008, it has complied with these rules, which “have withstood the test of time and have functioned well”, ever since.
As a result, Chen proposed extending the C-block rules to all mobile broadband spectrum and all operators as this “would achieve the President’s non-discrimination and equal access objectives without creating the risk of future price regulation, and would also satisfy several of the key points set forth in the joint proposals”.
Chen also said policy makers should address the content and application providers who control what kind of traffic travels on telecoms networks.
“If we are truly to have an open internet, policymakers should demand openness not just at the traffic/transport layer, but also at the content/applications layer of the ecosystem. Banning carriers from discriminating but allowing content and applications providers to continue doing so will solve nothing,” he explained.
The blog post was adapted from a letter sent to the chair people of several congressional committees that are considering the proposals made by the Obama administration and FCC.