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Wireless Lobbyists Step Up Defensive Against Net Neutrality

The wireless industry has been on a charm offensive, working overtime to lobby regulators, journalists and lawmakers to ease off one of the most vibrant sectors of the U.S. economy. After last week's proposal for new net neutrality rules that would include mobile broadband operators, that offensive has turned into a full-tilt defensive.

CTIA-The Wireless Association, the main trade group for carriers like AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel and hundreds of handset makers and mobile software firms, is toting around a 35-page slide deck that outlines their case. They say the wireless industry has been among the most vibrant sectors of the economy and that it's moving too quickly to be regulated.

Even with a stubborn recession, CTIA's vice president of regulatory affairs, Christopher Guttman-McCabe, told me over lunch last Thursday, the wireless industry directly employs 268,000 people with jobs that pay 50 percent higher the national average of wages in similar categories and that carriers are on track to continue to invest this year and next, their average capital investments of $22.8 billion a year.

So why pick on us? That's the message by carriers by CTIA's six-member team assigned to lobby the FCC (and the 5-8 outside law firms hire to work on net neutrality and other wireless issues).

"All people are focusing on our industry, but it can get worse," Guttman-McCabe said "By no means it this a perfect industry but it does offer a pretty amazing consumer experience."

New rules at the FCC would prevent carriers from blocking technologies like voice calling service Google Voice or Skype on Apple's iPhone, which runs exclusively on AT&T's network.

Roger Entner, senior vice president of communications research at Neilsen IAG, said last year's auction of spectrum seemed to clearly show that net neutrality rules wouldn't apply to the wireless industry. One swath of the spectrum, which was purchased by Verizon Wireless, was assigned conditions that would allow any technology or service to attach itself to the network.

"The wireless carriers are understandably shocked because they've spent billions upon billions of dollars for spectrum which they were explicitly told would not have net neutrality rules," said Roger Entner, senior vice president of research at Neilsen IAG. "It's explicit because there is spectrum with net neutrality conditions on it, which means everything else is not."

The main argument against net neutrality rules has been the unique capacity, or bandwidth, constraints on wireless networks. That's why AT&T and other carriers prohibit video service like Sling Media's television application for wireless devices, which can take up too much bandwidth and slow down service for other users.

The FCC said last week it is looking into whether there is enough spectrum -- the radiowaves used to carry wireless phone signals -- to meet the explosive demand for data on mobile networks.

Consumer advocacy groups say the wireless lobby is jumping ahead of the gun. While the rules would apply to all platforms -- telecom DSL lines, cable, and wireless -- The proposed rules by Genachowski are part of a process that would explore how mobile broadband fits in the picture, officials at the FCC have said.

"Wireless data networks are absolutely more constrained than wireline networks but there is nothing in the Internet policy statements that say companies can't engage in reasonable network management," Kelsey said. "This seeks to set out what reasonable network management is, and puts some activities clearly in the unacceptable category and others in the acceptable category."

Wireless industry lobbyists began toting around their 35-page slide deck presentation in August when Congress and the FCC stepped up scrutiny of the industry. Around that time Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and other key lawmakers began questioning practices of wireless carriers. They questioned if there was enough competition in the wireless industry and if a rise in text messaging prices was reflective of that. The net neutrality rules aren't expected to include exclusive handset contracts. But an FCC review of the wireless industry, which was launched in August in response to request by lawmakers, investigates how such contracts could harm consumers and competition.

By Cecilia Kang  |  September 28, 2009; 12:31 PM ET  | Category:  Cecilia Kang
Previous: Washington Post Editorial Calls Net Neutrality Rules Unnecessary | Next: Senators Plan Bill To Advance Net Neutrality

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Please email us to report offensive comments.

"By no means it this a perfect industry but it does offer a pretty amazing consumer experience."

If by "amazing" he means, "frustrating, demeaning, 5 times as expensive as similar European plans, infuriating, and impersonal," then yes, the US wireless industry offers a "pretty amazing" experience.

I had to have Verizon Wireless shut off all of my services other than plain old voice calls last month because they refused to block incoming SMS spam ads, and refused to block robot telemarketing calls from *known* abusers of the system. It took me well over 8 hours on the phone to get this much accomplished.

If I could get cellular service from a European carrier at European rates in the US, I'd drop Verizon instantly, but there is no competition in the USA, and no one else has the geographical coverage I need in North America, so I'm screwed.

Posted by: OldManDotes | September 28, 2009 2:11 PM

I thought the Posts' Rob Pegoraro set out the case very well, citing discrimination by wireless carriers.

Posted by: artbrodsky | September 28, 2009 7:49 PM

A very biased and one-sided article. Why no mention of the Google lobbyists which are roaming the halls of the Congress and the FCC, lobbying for the "network neutrality" regulation that Google wants? Many of them claiming to be from "public interest" groups? (For example, the "New America Foundation," which claims to be a public interest group, but is bankrolled by Google and has Google CEO Eric Schmidt as its chairman. Or "Public Knowledge," which receives large amounts of its funding from Google. Or "Free Press," which receives money directed to it by Google which is "laundered" through foundations.)

There's also no mention of the technical problems which the proposed "network neutrality" rules would cause to wireless Internet service providers (WISPs). The requirement to allow "any device" on the network could cause networks to lose 80% to 90% of their broadband capacity, causing severe congestion.

The Post needs to find reporters who will cover this issue fairly rather than cheerleading for one side.

Posted by: squirma | September 28, 2009 11:34 PM

squirma, for heaven's sakes, the WaPo just did an article on Skype's lobbying for net neutrality.

The IT industry press is heavily pro-net neutrality, because it benefits the entities that make up what most people think of as the Internet - the web sites, the applications, the destinations you go to.

All net neutrality does is insure open access to the roads to get there.

Suggesting it's just Google that supports net neutrality is simply false.

Posted by: VirginiaGal2 | September 30, 2009 7:20 AM

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