U.S. net neutrality push could harm global Internet, warns telecom expert


By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org

Not everyone agrees with the future U. S. Internet companies envision for broadband providers.

NET NEUTRALITY: U.S. telecom analyst Scott Cleland warns regulatory policies pursued by U.S. companies could harm the global Internet.

A recent FCC vote on a draft proposal considering stricter regulations of Internet service providers (ISPs) — such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile USA —provoked protests and social media outrage demanding the agency regulate the companies like public utilities.

Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association — whose members include, among others Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Twitter, and Yelp — voiced his own support for stricter regulations, stating, “nothing should be taken off of the table as this discussion evolves.”

Beckerman’s trade association, advocating for policies that benefit its members, is the latest corporate face of a10-year war waged over the regulatory fate of the Internet at the Federal Communications Commission.

But in an open letter published Monday, Scott Cleland — a telecom analyst and consultant to Fortune 500 companies — challenged Internet Association companies’ executives to think about how U.S. Internet policy sets an example for the rest of the globe.

Have you thought through the global implications of your businesses’ public lobbying for regulating broadband like a public telephone utility?,” asked Cleland, who also serves as a State Department adviser.

Both sides of the U.S. debate generally focus on the domestic implications of net neutrality regulations, but Cleland points across the pond to Google’s own battles in Europe as an example of what may lie ahead for the rest of the Internet ecosystem.

After Europe’s high court recently censored Google in favor of a so-called “right to be forgotten,” the company reportedly received multiple requests to remove information from its search listings.

In the run-up to the recent European Parliament elections, according to the Wall Street Journal, politicians from France and Germany also called for stricter regulation of the search giant.

The French government is expected to push for a new law that would classify Web giants like Google as public utilities, “forcing them to guarantee access to all services like phone operators,” reports the Journal.

“We don’t want to become a digital colony of global Internet giants,” French economy minister Arnaud Montebourg recently said, advocating for a “level playing field” for European tech companies.

According to tech executives speaking to the Journal, “the political rhetoric in Europe toward American tech companies amounts to a new kind of digital xenophobia, that could chase away foreign investment.”

When I reported at The Daily Caller in 2011 on a U.N.-affiliated fact-finding mission sponsored by billionaire philanthropist George Soros’ Open Society Foundation, however, an international movement to use Internet access and freedom of expression to justify regulating the Internet as a public utility was already underfoot.

But the Journal’s reporting, and Cleland’s analysis, suggest European tech companies are using similar strategies U.S. tech companies are deploying domestically by appealing to regulators and lawmakers for special treatment against their competitors.

In sum, Internet Association members appear to not appreciate that other countries monitor what U.S. companies and the FCC do and often apply it overseas,” said Cleland.

“Moreover,” he continued, “Internet companies appear to imagine that their status as America’s richest, most profitable, most protected, least regulated, least taxed and least accountable companies, entitles them to the same treatment overseas. It does not.”

Contact Josh Peterson at jpeterson@watchdog.org. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson