Network Neutrality: Mobile Broadband is Now a Commercial Mobile Radio Service

Wireless Wonk

Network Neutrality: Mobile Broadband is Now a Commercial Mobile Radio Service

By Barlow Keener, Attorney  |  May 07, 2015

My friends ask me: “We always knew mobile was regulated by the FCC (News - Alert). We have all these FCC fees on our bill. What’s the big deal with network neutrality as it relates to my phone?”

The phone they are referring to is their smartphone, an iPhone (News - Alert) 6 or Google Nexus 6, not their home phone (if they still have one).  Well, my friends do not know the details.  They have never heard of Commercial Mobile Radio Service. They did not know that the FCC network neutrality order changed the CMRS definition to bring mobile Internet into the same regulation tent as mobile voice. But my friends did understand a more important point that Sprint (News - Alert) apparently understood. The FCC already regulates mobile providers. Like wireline voice providers, mobile carriers have been subject to FCC common-carrier regulation since 1982. So what is the big deal with a little more of the same?

The whole mobile business has always equaled regulation. This regulation includes the FCC’s licensing of spectrum (at first giving it away and then auctioning it), mandating strict use requirements of the spectrum, USF fees, 911 location requirements, 911 fees, 911 call completion, fees related to Telecommunications Relay Service for disabled users, interconnection requirements like requiring mobile phones to be able to dial up a landline or a friend’s phone on a competing carrier, build out requirements in the licensed spectrum area, telephone number regulation (NANP), porting regulations (LNP), privacy (CPNI), wiretap capability (CALEA), and much more. My friends did not know that all these FCC fees and regulations were only for making sure that they could securely call from one friend to another using the mobile phone’s voice service.

The old CMRS voice-only regulation did not directly regulate the Internet part of the mobile service.   The FCC’s network neutrality order is focused on making sure that mobile users accessing the Internet are not blocked or slowed down from connecting with “edge providers” like Google, eBay (News - Alert), and Amazon in the same way that users of fixed broadband service like DSL or fiber are not blocked or slowed down.

Up until the network neutrality order, to regulate mobile voice telephone service, the FCC required that the mobile voice service use a “public switched network,” which is a network with telephone numbers. Taxi cab radios do not use telephone numbers to interconnect and are not regulated under CMRS. The network neutrality order expanded mobile voice regulation to include mobile Internet regulation by adding that interconnecting one mobile device to a website using a “public IP address” is like using telephone numbers. The network neutrality order went further than preventing discrimination through throttling and blocking unaffiliated websites. The order provided that “public IP addresses” can now be regulated by the FCC just as telephone numbers are regulated. The FCC order also declared DNS (domain names) to be unregulated “telecommunications systems management” similar to unregulated information services. “Public” IP addresses are already regulated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, the Internet Number Registry System, the Resource Public Key Infrastructure, the Number Resource Organization, and the American Registry for Internet Numbers (News - Alert). Thus, it is highly unlikely, indeed improbable, that the FCC will step into the morass of actually regulating public IP addresses.

The FCC has received a lot of flak from carriers, except for Sprint, for turning back the clock 20 years and taking the Internet back into the dark ages. The order, however, weaves a tight web of law, facts, and findings that could keep a court from overturning the order. However, first a carrier must have the courage to appeal the order. In the meantime, it is regulation as usual for mobile carriers. 

Barlow Keener is the principal with Keener Law Group ( out of Boston.

Edited by Dominick Sorrentino