Nation’s First Net Neutrality Skirmish Breaks Out in Georgia
In what is being touted as the first formal network neutrality complaint since the Federal Communications Commission adopted net neutrality rules in December 2010, a Voice over Internet Provider alleges a municipal Internet Service Provider selectively discriminated against its Web-based content and service.
In late May, VoIP provider L2Networks filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission against Georgia’s Albany Water Gas & Light Commission for alleged violations of the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Albany, which is also a municipal Internet Service Provider, wants L2Networks to compensate the company for using its fiber optic broadband cables at no cost.
“Muni-provided services have costs—lots of them,” said Mike Wendy, director of MediaFreedom.org in Washington, DC. “Getting broadband out to citizens in any context— [either] commercial or publicly provided—is an expensive business that needs to cover its costs in order that it remain sustainable. The incumbent providers get hammered for this when they want to build out and serve consumers—when they seek to cover their costs. This controversy, though it involves no traditional incumbent providers, lends some credence to their lament.”
‘Irreversible Ripple Effect’
L2Networks filed its complaint with the FCC in response to a criminal complaint filed against it by AWGLC’s regional utility and fiber-optic Competitive Local Exchange Carrier, which is regulated by the state of Georgia, for alleged theft of service when L2N delivered VoIP services without compensating AWGLC. According to the complaint, the alleged theft of service complaint stems from a single customer that employed L2N VoIP service over Albany Water's broadband service.
In a company press release, L2N asserts the theft-of-service charge filed by Ronald Skates, director of telecommunications for the Albany Water Gas & Light Commission, “if successful, has the potential to immediately create an irreversible ripple effect along with the creation of various legal challenges across nearly every national content and application provider like Netflix, Vonage, Packet8, Facebook, Google, Amazon and other entities that provide application based services across ‘the Internet.’”
Tripp Watson, an attorney in Birmingham, Alabama, says this is an example of unnecessary FCC intervention causing avoidable conflicts: “The FCC’s foray into net neutrality is a first for the United States government, which has had a hands-off approach since the Clinton administration. While the FCC's regulation of the accessibility to the Internet is not supposed to have a substantive impact on the character of the Internet, the effect is inevitable.”
Watson added, “The FCC has decided, without Congressional approval and directly contrary to Congress and the courts, that equality of outcomes is the standard that should be observed when considering access to the Internet. Not only is this a very fundamental contradiction to fundamental American values, but it is an exorbitant encroachment by the U.S. government into the previously unregulated Internet. Net neutrality is a significant step in a bad direction that sets a dangerous precedent for future outcome-based legal mandates.”
Phil Britt (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes from South Holland, Illinois.
“Theft of Service, Anti-Competitive and Anti-Trust Complaint: Document Filing # 140867,” Georgia Public Service Commission, March 13, 2012: http://www.psc.state.ga.us/factsv2/Document.aspx?documentNumber=140867
“VoIP Provider Files Net Neutrality Complaint With FCC,” Grant Gross, PC World, May 22, 2012: http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/255990/voip_provider_files_net_neutrality_complaint_with_fcc.html
“VoIP Firm Files First Net Neutrality Complaint with FCC After Being Accused of Theft of Service,” Andrew Webster, TheVerge, May 25, 2012: http://www.theverge.com/2012/5/25/3043134/l2networks-fcc-complaint-net-neutrality
“Net-Neutrality Complainant Seeking Emergency Action from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC),” L2Networks Corp. Press Release, May 22, 2012: http://himilean.com/net-neutrality-complainant-seeking-emergency-action-from-the-federal-communications-commission-fcc/