Tuesday, April 09, 2024

FCC reclassification of Internet access as Title II utility likely to have little impact on affordability

When the U.S. Federal Communications Commission votes to reclassify Internet access as a common carrier utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 as expected April 25, it’s unlikely to increase affordable access. The primary reason is the FCC is forbearing rate filing and regulation in the joint federal-state framework with state public utility commissions that regulate rates for as they do for legacy voice telephone service under Title II authority.

While Title II would subject Internet service providers (ISPs) to Title II’s universal service and nondiscrimination provisions requiring reasonable requests for service be honored, without rate regulation ISPs could charge exorbitant rates difficult for households and small businesses to afford.

For example, an ISP could tell a group of households and small businesses that they’ll honor requests for fiber to the premises (FTTP) service. But given the area’s characteristics such as density of fewer than 15 premises per road mile, old utility poles in need of replacement and distance from middle mile backhaul, extending fiber connections would require a connection fee of $1,000 per prem and $250 per month for service.

With the FCC’s forbearance, these end users also would lack the ability to claim the rates constitute discriminatory conduct under 47 U.S.C. 202, titled Discrimination and Preferences. This provision makes it unlawful for common carriers engage in “unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services for or in connection with like communication service, directly or indirectly, by any means or device, or to make or give any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of persons, or locality, or to subject any particular person, class of persons, or locality to any undue or unreasonable prejudice or disadvantage.” (Emphasis added)

An ISP could also contend that this pricing would not constitute a discriminatory practice per the FCC’s recently adopted Preventing Digital Discrimination rulemaking because those charges are needed for reasons of economic and technical feasibility in order to extend service. The abovementioned pricing could well become common for new FTTP service reflecting the growth in labor and material costs.

No comments: