Carrier Evolution

Verizon and MetroPCS argue that U.S. network neutrality rules violate free speech rights, as cable operators likewise have won freedom to program their video services as they see fit. The Federal Comnmunications Commission also has ruled that cable broadband access services are not covered by common carrier rules for the same reason. Verizon hopes courts will rule in a similar way about network neutrality rules.

That might strike you as an odd way of viewing cable high speed access, since telco broadband access is more heavily regulated.

It has been obvious for some decades that traditional methods of “regulating” distinct industries was going to become complicated as virtually all services and media could be carried over a single infrastructure, by firms that once were in distinct businesses, with different regulatory frameworks.

Verizon now is testing those frameworks, as it argues that network neutrality rules violate its free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In the past, newspapers and other media have been essentially “unregulated.” TV and radio broadcasters have had more regulation, as have video service providers, while telecom companies have had the most extensive regulation.

So Verizon now argues that broadband providers have “editorial discretion” to give priority to their own Web content, and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules limiting that discretion is a violation of providers’ free speech rights.

That is the same framework that governs cable TV and other video service provider services, so the argument is not unusual.

“Just as a newspaper is entitled to decide which content to publish and where, broadband providers may feature some content over others,” Verizon argues.

The debate is not likely to end there, though, no matter what the courts rule. Today, contestants that provide identical services, such as cable TV and telco entities, are regulated under distinct and different frameworks. Beyond that “unfair” treatment, there is the broader issue of how to reconcile the “media” model of “no regulation” with the common carrier “heavy regulation” models, when a single company provides services in virtually every regulatory bucket.