Re: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – WC Docket No. 17-108
The subject notice seeks comment on the analysis provided. The following comments are hereby submitted.
Paragraph 27 purports to show that broadband Internet service is an information service because it provides users the "capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications." The argument given is that broadband Internet service allows users to do all these things. However, this is not the same as providing the capability to do these things. To see why, consider that providing users Internet services over dialup phone lines also allows users to do all these things; but the phone lines themselves are telecommunications services, not information services. Why? Because providing the user dialup Internet, by itself, does not provide them the capability to do all these things. That capability is provided by the endpoints: the users' computers, and the computers hosting the Internet services that the users connect to.
Exactly the same is true of broadband Internet services provided by ISPs: by themselves, they do not provide users the capability to do all these things. They only provide connections between computers at the endpoints that provide those capabilities. It is the services provided by the Internet hosts that users connect to that are "information services". The broadband Internet services that allow users to connect to those hosts are telecommunications services, and should be regulated as such.
ISPs object to analyses like the one above because they claim that they also provide the actual information services--in other words, they also provide Internet hosts that function as email servers, web servers, etc. But it is obvious that those services are separate from the broadband connection services provided by those same ISPs, because users can make use of the latter without making use of the former at all. I am such a user: I use the broadband Internet connection provided by my ISP, but I do not use any of the information services they provide; I do not use their email, their web hosting, etc. I use other Internet hosts provided by other companies for those services. The fact that ISPs offer information services as well as telecommunications services does not make their telecommunications services into information services; an ISP's choice of business model cannot change the nature of a particular service it provides. Broadband Internet connections are obviously a telecommunications service, and should be regulated as such, regardless of what other services ISPs would like to bundle with them.
Paragraph 28 asks whether "offering Internet access is precisely what makes the service capable of 'generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information' to consumers?" The answer to this question, as noted above, is no, because all of those capabilities are not provided by the mere fact of Internet access; they are provided by the endpoint computers that implement those capabilities. The question of how those computers are connected to each other, which is the relevant question for the purpose of determining whether broadband Internet service is a telecommunications service, is a separate question from the question of what capabilities the endpoint computers provide.
Paragraph 28 also asks whether consumers could "access these online services using traditional telecommunications services like telephone service or point-to-point special access?" Obviously the answer to this question will depend on what connectivity the providers of such telecommunications services choose to provide. But that is a different question from the question of what the nature of a particular service is. Again, the question of how computers are connected to each other is separate from the question of what capabilities the endpoint computers provide.
Paragraph 29 attempts to argue, in effect, that if most Internet users rely on their ISPs for any additional service beyond the bare fact of Internet connectivity--for example, DNS--then broadband Internet service must be an information service. Paragraph 29 also claims that the ISP, not the user, "specifies the points between and among which information will be transmitted", because, first, users only specify domain names, not IP addresses, and second, users do not make the routing decisions that determine the specific path information packets take through the network. Neither of these considerations affects the proper classification of broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service. Users might only specify domain names, but the service of translating domain names into IP addresses is provided by an endpoint--a DNS server--not by the bare provision of an Internet connection. (And even if the ISP typically provides this endpoint, that is still a separate service from the service of providing an Internet connection, and, as above, bundling the two together cannot change the nature of the latter.) Once the DNS service has provided an IP address corresponding to a domain name to the user's computer, the user's computer, not the network, specifies that IP address as the target of information packets, so once again, it is an endpoint, not the network itself, that determines where the information goes. And routing information packets, in and of itself, is not an information service, because it does not change the information being routed; it just accomplishes the information transmission specified by the user, from one endpoint to another. The intermediate routers that pass on information packets are not endpoints: they are not specified by the user as the targets of any information, and they do not provide any of the capabilities that make an endpoint a provider of an information service.
The analysis of Paragraph 29 also fails to take into account that, if it were valid, it would apply equally well to traditional phone service, which is admitted to be a telecommunications service. Users specify phone numbers to dial, but that does not require knowledge of the physical location of the target phone (and the user will often not have such knowledge), nor does it specify the route that will be taken by the information transmitted by the call. Also, traditional phone service includes directory service (411) and other "add-ons" that go beyond the basic provision of a connection. What makes those "add-ons" telecommunications services rather than information services is that they are for the purpose of facilitating the connection (or facilitating the refusal of connections which are not desired), rather than acting on the information exchanged between the users at the endpoints.
Paragraph 30 attempts to argue that network management activities such as firewalling and IPV4 - IPV6 translation constitute changing the information being transmitted. This analysis fails in two ways. First, refusing to transmit information (e.g., a firewall blocking content deemed to be harmful) is not the same as changing it. Refusing to provide a connection to a user is not the same as changing the information transmitted by the user. Second, the "information" which is changed by such activities as IPV4 - IPV6 translation is not the information sent by the user; it is network management information which is added to the information packets specified by the user, outside the user's control and indeed without the knowledge of most users (since most users are not familiar with the technical details of IP networking). These network management activities are no different from the activities routinely performed by phone networks to route calls--indeed, today the same physical infrastructure is often used to perform both functions, since the phone service backbone and the Internet backbone are in many cases the same networks. Similar remarks apply to services such as filtering by firewalls: phone networks can block calls from certain numbers, for example. Again, the key distinction which the analysis in Paragraph 30 fails to make is between "add-on" services that are for the purpose of facilitating connections, and services that are for the purpose of manipulating the information exchanged by the users at the endpoints. Only the latter are information services; the former are part of the telecommunications service that provides the connection.
In the light of all of the above considerations, the FCC should continue to regulate broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service.