Sprint now says it's OK with broadband reclassification

The company will continue to invest in its network if the FCC passes Title II net neutrality regulations

Sprint wouldn't object to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility in order to pass strong net neutrality rules, as long as the agency applies those new regulations with a "light touch," the mobile carrier said.

In a break with other large mobile carriers and, apparently, its past position on net neutrality, Sprint has told the FCC that a light touch application of utility-style rules under Title II of the Telecommunications Act isn't likely to "harm the continued investment in, and deployment of, mobile broadband services."

That's a clear split from companies like AT&T and Verizon Communications, as well as mobile carrier trade group CTIA, which have all argued that Title II-based regulations would hinder investment in mobile broadband. On Friday, CTIA released a survey, with 66 percent of respondents saying the government should consider mobile technologies and the competitive landscape instead of applying rules designed for wired networks.

Sprint, in a letter to the FCC Thursday, also called on the agency to give mobile carriers flexibility to manage their networks and differentiate their services. That's a consistent message from earlier comments Sprint filed with the agency.

Sprint, in net neutrality comments filed in September, had called on the FCC to pass limited rules against carriers and broadband providers selectively blocking Web traffic. The carrier had also asked the agency to exempt mobile carriers from proposed net neutrality rules against traffic discrimination and requiring "commercially reasonable" network management.

"Further restrictions would result in commission micromanagement of mobile broadband network operations, a particularly harmful approach given the congestion management issues mobile broadband operators face," Sprint officials wrote in September. "Because providing the service quality necessary to retain customers is the primary incentive behind continued investment and expansion of mobile network [sic], commission policies that restrict mobile providers' ability to management demand will reduce such investment."

Sprint's new letter, from company CTO Stephen Bye, isn't a strong endorsement of Title II, but it does say that Sprint will continue to invest in its networks if the FCC chooses reclassification or some other net neutrality option.

"Sprint has always believed that competition, not regulation, will provide consumers the best mobile services at the lowest price," Bye wrote. "We urge the FCC and Congress not to be distracted by debates over Title II but to focus on competition by ensuring that any net neutrality regulations adopted recognize the unique network management challenges faced by mobile carriers ..."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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