In the wake of Charter Communications becoming the second-largest broadband provider and third-largest video provider in the U.S., consumers are left wondering…what’s next?
The Federal Communications Commission locked in pledges from Charter not to impose data caps on its customers or institute usage-based fees for at least three years. Charter also agreed to comply with the FCC’s Open Internet Order to treat all traffic equally. While the conditions may be a win for consumers, Charter’s acquisition happened against a backdrop of emerging decisions far beyond the FCC’s control. Here are three factors The Cord Cutting Report sees as crucial turning points for net neutrality in 2017.
COURT RULING ON OPEN INTERNET ORDER BY THE FCC
A federal appeals court is expected to hand down a decision any day now that could dramatically impact the Federal Communication Commission’s effort to deem broadband as a public utility and guarantee net neutrality. AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications are among the telecommunications and cable companies challenging the FCC’s authority to enforce rules for a neutral net. The FCC’s passed the Open Internet Order in February 2015. As Investor’s Business Daily reported last week, analysts believe the matter will end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
The next president could end up picking the next Supreme Court justice, especially if the Obama administration fails to secure the nomination of Judge Merrick B. Garland. Fast Company has outlined where Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump stand on key tech issues including as net neutrality. Clinton supports the new rules and says she wants the FCC has the legal power to punish large companies that violate the Internet Open Order. Sanders has described practices by Comcast and Verizon as anti-competitive and distinguishes himself as a longstanding critic of creating Internet fast lanes. Trump has been against net neutrality rules, saying he fears it would somehow lead to the censorship of conservative media. (Huh?)
LOBBYING BY THE TELECOM INDUSTRY
So far this year, Comcast – the nation’s largest broadband and cable provider – has spent $3.7 million in 2016 on lobbying, according to data compiled by the web site OpenSecrets.org. That number pales in comparison to its annual spending in Washington to advance its agenda with lawmakers. In 2015, broadband-and-cable giant spent $15.6 million, a drop in recent years. Comcast doled out $18.8 million in 2013 and $17 million in 2014.
Charter Communications has spent $1.6 million this year on lobbying, and $4.1 million in 2015. Time Warner has spent an estimated $737,000 this year on lobbying, according to OpenSecrets, followed by $2.7 million in 2015 and $3.3 million in 2014. Those figures could increase significantly not only due to Charter’s buyout. The anticipated court decisions that are to come from the war that the telecommunications industry is waging in the courts against the FCC are sure to delineate new lines in the sand with government regulators and consumers. But those skirmishes are not just happening in the nation’s capital.
In the state of Missouri, cities hoping to create their own municipal broadband service have once again come under attack by state lawmakers. Rep. Lyndall Fraker, a Republican who has been criticized for receiving thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from AT&T, proposed an amendment two weeks ago under a traffic ticket bill that would have prevented cities and towns from private Internet service providers. A conference committee removed Fraker’s amendment from the bill last week after lobbying by the Coalition for Local Internet Choice. A decision on whether voters choose to impose their own toll on Fraker for his actions may come soon. The primary for the Missouri House of Representatives District 137 seat is on Aug. 2 followed by the general election in November.