AT&T claims ‘strong’ net neutrality would actually ruin the Internet. That’s a big leap.

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[Commentary] Advocates of an open Internet have for weeks been urging the Federal Communications Commission to re-label broadband as a utility -- a move toward "strong" network neutrality that would give the FCC much greater authority to ban controversial fast lanes on the Internet.

Reclassification, as the proposal is called, would allow the FCC to apply the same set of strict rules to ISPs that it currently uses to govern telephone companies. (Congressional Democrats, meanwhile, have just introduced legislation to ban fast lanes outright.)

Broadband providers have long opposed the idea of greater regulation, but now they're stepping up their rhetoric against it, arguing that reclassification won't do what net neutrality advocates are hoping for -- and might even threaten Internet companies such as Google and Netflix. In a nutshell, they say, if the FCC can regulate how the Internet gets delivered to you and me, what parts of the Internet can't the FCC regulate?

AT&T is among the most vocal critics of reclassification. Company executive Jim Cicconi argued that reclassifying Internet providers -- placing them under Title II of the Communications Act instead of the more lenient Title I -- wouldn't do anything to prevent the rise of Internet fast lanes, because embedded in Title II is a loophole that lets ISPs manipulate some traffic so long as it's not "unjust" or "unreasonable."

But the bigger problem, AT&T says, is that Title II would create all kinds of burdensome new requirements on content companies -- the Googles and Netflixes of the world. For example, said Cicconi, Internet applications might be newly forced to pay into a "universal service fund" that the FCC keeps to connect poor and rural areas to phone service.

Cicconi is asking you to make a number of logical leaps. But it's not clear that you should.

AT&T claims ‘strong’ net neutrality would actually ruin the Internet. That’s a big leap.