Nel's New Day

June 15, 2016

Court Rules for Net Neutrality – Yea!

Filed under: net neutrality — trp2011 @ 9:48 PM
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Like many other people, I do a lot of searching on the internet, and my partner thoroughly enjoys watching Netflix movies. We have friends who have abandoned their cable television in our small Oregon coast town for watching programs via their computers. Yesterday was a big victory that prevents big business from slowing down downloads from the internet onto our computers. allows us to continue with our computer access.

Donald Trump’s outrageous comments about Muslims and the president monopolizing the media means that the net neutrality decision got little press when a three-judge panel of the DC District Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the people in the United States. The issue was the Federal Communication Commission’s  (FCC) authority to regulate the internet as a “common carrier,” similar to telephone service and frequently called “net neutrality.” Huge corporations want to charge for higher speed and access on the internet, but the Washington, DC court said they may not do so.

As usual big companies may appeal, but this court ruling is significant. The court decision gives the FCC authority to regulate broadband service as a utility, much like telephone service, instead of a luxury. It applies equally to wired broadband providers like cable companies and mobile ones such as Verizon.

The struggle goes back about 15 years as consumer groups and internet companies have fought to keep the internet from being a corporate medium like cable television. Corporations such as Comcast and AT&T want unequal treatment for online traffic like Netflix and cute videos about animals. Without net neutrality, internet service providers can favor their own services and disadvantage all others, block sites and apps, and force video and other data services to pay extra for their “fast lanes.”

Robert Malcolm McDowell, appointed to the FCC by George W. Bush in 2006, fought unfettered public use of the internet until he left in 2013. Congress then dived into the fray with a bill written by corporations designed to strip FCC’s ability to set regulations. If that bill had passed, the FCC would be left with no responsibilities except to adjudicate disputes. Ambiguous terms in the proposed bill such as “specialized services” and “reasonable network management” created huge loopholes for corporations and failed to address newer technology. Despite the payments that the industry gave politicians, however, the bill failed. Instead, the FCC passed rules that reclassified the internet in “common carrier” service, the same category for telephone service, under Title II of the Communications Act.

The FCC Open Internet Order provides these protections to access and free speech on the net, according to the FCC news release:

No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.

No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.

No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.

If an appeal from large broadband carriers takes the issue to the full DC Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, the rules could still be struck down. The industry has huge financial power. For example, Comcast, which started as a cable TV provider, now owns Comcast Internet, NBC/MSNBC, Universal Pictures and other companies. Its $74.5 billion in sales during 2015 was an eight percent increase from the year before and gives them assets of more than $149 billion.

As Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) point out, Comcast provides internet content as well as services. “Comcast-Funded Website [Vox] Plugs Comcast-Owned TV Show [The Tonight Show] Promoting Comcast-Backed Trade Pact [Trans-Pacific Partnership].” Even “common carrier” regulations cannot prevent this situation. But at least they cannot discriminate against smaller sites and those with large bandwidths—at least as long as the court ruling isn’t overturn.

Until that time, internet can no longer ignore some former expectations when the FCC did not declare them telecommunications carriers. At this time, telephone companies must get consumers’ explicit consent before sharing their names, phone numbers, addresses, or other personal information with marketers. Internet providers have not been required to get consent, but a pending proposal at the FCC would seek to extend a similar set of expectations to broadband companies.

Incensed by the court ruling, a Senate committee, led by Republicans, voted today to weaken the FCC net neutrality rules. They voted to exempt small broadband providers from rules requiring them to provide their customers with information about network performance, network management practices, and other issues. The purpose of the rules is to give customers information about actual speed as compared to advertised speeds as well as potentially controversial congestion management practices.

Joshua Stager, policy counsel at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, said that the Senate bill “creates a needless loophole” in the net neutrality rules. He explained, “The transparency rules help ensure a level playing field for small businesses to compete in the online marketplace—which is why so many small businesses asked the FCC to create these rules in the first place.” Since the FCC’s 2015 rules over a year ago, GOP lawmakers have failed to pass over a dozen bills or amendments to weaken or kill the regulations. None so far has succeeded.

Two years ago, John Oliver provided a great segment on what net neutrality actually is and took on the GOP congressional members who opposed the ruling. One of these naysayers was Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), who described net neutrality as the idea that “the latest cat video is of equal importance to a teleconference consultation to a heart patient.” Oliver gave this wonderful response:

“You are misunderstanding what net neutrality is. Cat videos are part of the point. [The policy is about keeping internet service providers from] picking a choosing whose voices get heard, ensuring that the internet remains a democratic space for all messages. And that goes for cat videos, too.”

Oliver was so successful in awakening people to the importance of net neutrality that the tens of thousands of responses immediately crashed the “Comment” section of the FCC website. Millions of more comments followed, once the website was back up.

The conservatives are being very grumpy about the court decision, which indicates that it’s probably a very good idea. Thanks to the FCC, two of the three judges on the DC Circuit Court panel—and perhaps John Oliver–big business won’t be slowing my downloads, and huge corporations won’t be charging for faster speeds. At least for now.

March 4, 2015

Net Neutrality: What Democracy Looks Like

Filed under: net neutrality — trp2011 @ 8:06 PM
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A miracle happened last week. After big broadband providers flooded the media threatening huge problems caused by net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission voted to reclassify broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Their action will keep broadband providers from blocking or slowing traffic on the Internet. The fight isn’t over because the same providers will pour millions into lobbying Congress for laws to eliminate equal access to the Internet. At this time, they may not be successful, considering the dysfunctional nature of a Congress that almost sent the DHS into shutdown. The Fox network made its usual outrageously false comments. Read at your own risk.

What big business broadband providers wanted was the right to collect payment from Web businesses for delivering content with higher speed and quality. Open Internet advocates said that the providers shouldn’t be able to manipulate traffic in a way that smacks of blackmail. New rules reclassify broadband Internet services from an “information service” to a “telecommunications service.” The change holds companies such as Comcast and AT&T to the higher and necessary standard of operating in the public interest.

As a fact sheet from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler states, “For the first time the Commission would have authority to hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if necessary” if it finds that interconnection deals between internet service providers and content providers fail to meet Title II’s “just and reasonable” standard. Under the new FCC definition of high-speed broadband, 82 percent of consumers in the nation have one or fewer options of high speed internet providers. No competition meets no free market advantage for the consumer who is charged unreasonable rates, receives bad service, or suffers from “fast lane” deals that make some parts of the internet more accessible than others. Free online speech is another advantage of the FCC ruling: everyone’s voice can be heard regardless of economic status.

The potential of the FCC change is amazing. State regulations can no longer limit local internet services; for example, cities that petition the FCC can provide high speed internet to their residents. As such, the FCC overturned laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that prevent local governments from expanding services in Chattanooga and Wilson (NC). Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) have already filed legislation to overturn the FCC’s municipal broadband ruling.

The rules ban Internet providers from blocking or slowing down services such as Netflix and from speeding up traffic even in exchange for money. Wireless carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile, which provide Internet service to tens of millions of smartphones and tablets are included in the regulation. Sprint, one of the four major wireless providers, “commends the FCC for its hard work in arriving at a thoughtful, measured approach on this important issue.” Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper wrote, “It is important to draw the distinction between regulation of the Internet, and regulation of carriers. The FCC’s order will disallow carriers from discriminating against sources of traffic that their customers choose to access via the Internet. This is common carriage at its core, and as a carrier, I am supportive of being regulated as a common carrier by the FCC.”

On the other hand, Verizon is so furious about the FCC decision that the company issued its protest in Morse code, guaranteeing that almost no one could read its statement without going to a PDF of its arguments against net neutrality.

Verizon_Morse_Code (1)

Verizon is partly to blame for the FCC ruling because it sued to overturn much weaker rules passed in 2010, leading to today’s ruling. Other providers are blaming Verizon for its action.

The FCC made no changes to consumer services or any additional fees. That is the reason for the FCC ruling–to keep the Internet functioning as it is now. The FCC was very cautious in its ruling—no regulation of “unbundling, tariffs, or other forms of rate regulation.” That means people in the United States will continue to pay far more than most other countries for their Internet access.

Net neutrality doesn’t stop big business from making big money. If the FCC approves Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable, Comcast will control over half the U.S. cable and Internet market with 63 percent of U.S. consumers having only one choice of broadband provider. Generating $68 billion in 2014, Comcast owns NBC and Universal pictures, has consolidated internet, cable television and phone services, and made huge profits from investing in fiber optic cables and buy smaller providers. In that way, the company has successfully increased consumer monthly charges, including jacked-up prices for faster speeds, as shown in “Time Warner Cable’s 97 Percent Profit Margin on High-Speed Internet Service Exposed.”

Because FCC has not issue exact language about the change, specifics won’t be made public for weeks. That’s when providers will begin taking legal action against the FCC rules and lobby sympathetic conservative legislators for votes to supersede the regulations. House and Senate Republicans have already invited providers for a meeting in their plan to remove broadband from classification as a utility service.

Marvin Ammori wrote about the victory of the people in the FCC decision:

“The vote is already touted as among the biggest public interest victories in history and arguably the biggest Internet freedom victory ever. ‘Ever’ means: this victory is even bigger than the victory over the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2012, a copyright bill that could have censored our favorite websites but went down in flames when Wikipedia, reddit, Google and others joined in an Internet-wide blackout for one day.”

Popular victories like today’s are so unusual that three Congressional committees are investigating how this happened,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a group that supports net neutrality. This miracle came from a grassroots effort in opposition to big money from big business. People camped out in front of the FCC and picketed FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s home. Almost 4 million people left comments on the FCC website, at one point crashing it. In return, providers donated heavily to civil rights organizations to bring them in line with big business. With Comcast and Verizon trustees on its board and $2 million in donations during 2012 and 2013, the Urban League widely publicized Comcast’s arguments against net neutrality. The response was a coalition of almost 100 other civil rights organizations such as Color of Change and Hispanic Media Coalition calling on the FCC to reclassify broadband.

As Craig Aaron wrote, “This is what democracy looks like.”

February 4, 2015

Net Neutrality off Life Support

I have two questions for you:

  1. Do you use the Internet?
  2. Do you ever get impatient?

If you answer yes to both these questions, you may think the following news is wonderful.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler has asked for authority to enforce open Internet protections. For years, there has been a threat to equal access to the Internet, made worse by the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court ruling against fair access to the Internet. If Wheeler’s proposal succeeds, Title II of the Communications Act will stop service providers from charging some content providers, for example Netflix, more money than others for access. The plan includes equal rules for both mobile and fixed networks. FCC commissioners will vote on the plan later this month. The four other commissioners are equally split between Republicans and Democrats.

Another part of the plan is to give the FCC authority over points of interconnection between an Internet service provider and the rest of the Internet. The agency will also be able to investigate complaints about unfair interconnection activities.

Wheeler appeared to waffle about the concept of “net neutrality,” blocking charges for faster service, until President Obama supported the plan in November. A FCC official said that reactions from financial analysts and ISPs such as Sprint showed that the plan could work without harming investments. The question is whether the final plan will have loopholes for these companies.

Telecom and cable companies fighting the plan are upset. Doug Brake, telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, stated that the decision is an “unjustified, overblown response to what has in actuality been a by-and-large hypothetical concern.” (Netflix has already been charged more to get speed equal to other companies.) These corporations are hoping that congressional Republicans will strip FCC of the authority to require strong Internet protections.

In a piece published in Wired, Wheeler wrote about his past experience as the president of a startup, NABU: The Home Computer Network. Its delivery time was hundreds of times faster than Steve Case’s AOL, he said, but NABU went broke because it had to depend on cable television operators to grant access to its systems. Case had access to unlimited customers because they used the telephone network rather than cable. Wheeler explained his change from using “commercial reasonableness” under Section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act as the basis for his decision: “I became concerned that this relatively new concept might, down the road, be interpreted to mean what is reasonable for commercial interests, not consumers.”

Wheeler added, “My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”

Verizon had “won” the lawsuit that stopped the FCC from giving fair access to Internet providers. After the corporation sued to block the FCC’s 2010 net neutrality order, the court threw out FCC rules against blocking and discrimination. The ruling stated that the FCC was wrong by imposing per se common carrier rules applied to the former telephone network onto broadband without first classifying broadband providers as common carriers. It left the door open for the FCC to do exactly that, making the outcome worse for Verizon and fellow ISPs. The proposed rules stop speeding up, slowing down, or blocking broadband Internet traffic just like regulations dating back to the early days of the telephone business.

The FCC vote on February 26 will lead to lawsuits, no matter which side comes out on top. The broadband industry—telecom, mobile, and cable providers—has deep pockets and argue that these rules would stifle network investment and strangle innovation. Michael Powell, a former chairman of the FCC and now CEO of lobbyist trade group National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said that any attempt to reclassify broadband under Title II would amount to “World War III.”

Meredith Attwell Baker, CEO of the CTIA wireless trade group, claims concern “that the FCC’s proposed approach could jeopardize our world-leading mobile broadband market.” She hasn’t read any of the thousands of articles on the Internet showing that people in the United States pay more and get less from their web connection. In Europe, the Internet speed makes the speed in the U.S. seem sluggish, and the cost there can be about $56 a month for broadband—Internet, television, and telephone combined. One study ranks the U.S. 16th in the world in speed and cost of broadband connections.

Internet in the UK comparable to the U.S. is $6 per month. The government paid nothing to develop the Internet, but government regulations force more competition in the market. America’s AT&T and Verizon are members of a consortium that is pushing for faster broadband service in the UK. They want more competition but say that the policies they support in Europe would be a big mistake for the United States.

About a year ago, BBC published an article on how the United States compares to other countries in the world. As it points out, many people in the U.S. even have to rent the modem (we do!). One user said, “That’s like a rental car company charging customers an extra $7 fee per month to include the steering wheel.” Yup.

Under Wheeler’s proposal, the FCC cannot set rates for ISPs or tariffs. It also cannot require ISPs to share lines to customers with rivals offering a competitive Internet service. Wheeler pointed out that mobile service is governed in the same manner as his proposal. “Over the last 21 years, the wireless industry has invested almost $300 billion under similar rules, proving that modernized Title II regulation can encourage investment and competition,” he said. His justification for putting the Internet on an equal basis with wireless networks is that over half the people in the United States access the Internet on mobile devices. “Wireless can’t carry 55 percent of the Internet’s traffic and expect to be exempt from Open Internet requirements,” he said.

Wheeler’s draft rules have even more provisions to irritate big broadband corporations. The proposal enforces consumer privacy rules; charges Internet providers to help subsidize services for rural Americans, educators, and the poor; and ensures that services such as Google Fiber can more easily build new broadband pipes. Providers would not be required to contribute to the subsidy fund initially, but the proposal makes this possible later if the FCC thinks the fund is necessary. The existing Universal Service Fund helps schools and libraries buy Internet service, reduces the cost of telephone service for low-income Americans, and subsidizes connectivity for rural areas.

The impetus last summer was lagging until John Oliver, late-night comedian of Last Week Tonight who started on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, gave a 13-minute rant about the lack of net neutrality. The resulting millions of comments demanding net neutrality briefly shut down the FCC website. That success was followed by Mozilla, the maker of the popular Firefox browser, suggesting that the FCC split the Internet in two. Wheeler explored the hybrid plan, but President Obama’s urging may have led Wheeler to drop the idea in favor of the current proposal.

Net neutrality, which seemed to be on life support just a year ago, may become law of the land. If it does, it will make a fortune for the lawyers from the broadband industry.

November 19, 2014

Net Neutrality Decision Postponed–Again

Filed under: net neutrality — trp2011 @ 8:31 PM
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“Obama for the Internet.” Preserving net neutrality will “stifle freedom, entrepreneurship and creativity online.” That’s Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) take on the debate that’s coming to a head, like a giant boil ready to burst.

For the uninitiated, net neutrality requires the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to treat all content equal in speed and delivery. Charging extra for higher speeds or slowing down parts of the Internet content affects everyone who uses is.

The FCC can continue net neutrality by classifying the Internet as a common carrier utility. President Obama supports net neutrality, but FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, a former telecoms lobbyist, isn’t convinced. As the swing voter between two Democrats and two Republicans, he’s the Decider. Big telecommunication companies such as Comcast and Verizon are fighting net neutrality not only because they can’t make as much money but also because they would be more highly regulated.

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), who just won his seat by over 10 points, responded to Cruz on CNN’s State of the Union. The Internet has been “neutral” since its inception so there’s no change. As for quashing entrepreneurship, three guys in a pizzeria sold “YouTube” to Google for $1.65 billion because Google decided it was a better system than “Google Video.” Big businesses such as Ford, Visa, UPS, and Bank of America like net neutrality so much that they’ve lobbied the FCC to keep the rules by reclassifying broadband as an essential service. Their position is the same as most of the people in the United States:

“Every retailer with an online catalogue, every manufacturer with online product specifications, every insurance company with online claims processing, every bank offering online account management, every company with a website—every business in America interacting with its customers online is dependent upon an open Internet.”

After one big communication corporations failed to bribe the government to dump net neutrality, it tried extortion. AT&T’s CEO, Randall Stephenson, said that the company won’t extend new high-speed Internet connections in 100 U.S. cities if the FCC imposes net neutrality regulations. The FCC wrote back, asking for “all documents” related to that decision. AT&T may have trouble finding those documents because there have been no details published about these plans. The company should have hedged its bets because the FCC hasn’t yet signed off on its request to buy DirecTV for $48 billion. FCC also wants to know if AT&T’s financial model “demonstrates that fiber deployment is now unprofitable” and whether laying fiber to more than two million homes after the DirecTV acquisition “would be unprofitable.”

The FCC decision has great implications for almost all United States residents. If Wheeler decides in favor of the big companies, they can decide not only the speed of content on the Internet, but also the content itself. With net neutrality, an ISP cannot block a legal website or service. The decision also affects mobile devices which increasingly receive information from the Internet. Regulations require that customers of one phone company aren’t penalized when receiving calls from other company’s customers. The same philosophy should apply to information from the Internet. As the president said:

“The Internet has been one of the greatest gifts our economy — and our society — has ever known. The FCC was chartered to promote competition, innovation, and investment in our networks. In service of that mission, there is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet. I thank the Commissioners for having served this cause with distinction and integrity, and I respectfully ask them to adopt the policies I have outlined here, to preserve this technology’s promise for today, and future generations to come.”

The first thing that Wheeler did after the president announced his support for net neutrality was to say that the FCC needs more time. Today was the deadline for publishing revised rules for a December vote, but that didn’t happen. Wheeler postponed the decision until sometime in 2015 when the GOP can apply more pressure and big telecom companies have more time to lobby politicians.

In speaking about a different issue, House Speaker John Boehner stressed that the president should follow the mandate of the people. If Republicans truly believed that (ha!), they would support net neutrality.

A new survey from the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication found strong support for neutrality regardless of gender, age, race and level of education. About 81 percent of people in the United States oppose “Internet fast lanes” that would charge more for websites and services to get content to customers more quickly. Republicans are even more likely to support net neutrality than Democrats although their elected legislators don’t support their preference.

A problem with accurate poll numbers is that people have been slow to understand what net neutrality. Just six months ago, 63 percent of the respondents said they’d never heard the term “net neutrality.” Even now, 54 percent still say they haven’t heard the term. Yet a few weeks ago, 77 percent agreed that all Internet information should be treated the same and that ISPs should not be able to restrict the speed on content.

Cruz’s twitter that “ ‘net neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet” made him a few enemies. These are some of the nearly 3,000 responses on Cruz’s Facebook page:

Ed Piper: As a Republican who works in the tech industry I can say that this statement shows you either have no idea what you are talking about or you are bought and paid for by the American Cable monopoly.

Keith French: Ted, I am as conservative as they come…. I want government out of just about everything… and I hate to say it, really hate to say it, but Obama is right on this one. I do not want my access and internet speed controlled by my ISP. It will be.

Joey Camp: As a Republican whom also works in IT like Ed… You have no clue what you are talking about or you are company bought and paid for.

A Jinnie McManus: Goddammit, stop making my party look like morons and look up net neutrality. It doesn’t mean what you and your speechwriters think it means.

Adam Huzzey: Go find whatever rock you crawled out from under Ted and stay under it! Proud republican here, but not so proud to be blind like the good senator. Look how “great” our free market Internet is!!! I pay $100 a month for 15mbs / 100gb p/m capped Internet. Yep, those “free” markets really make it better lmao.

Jimmy Lee: Wow. I am embarassed that I supported you Ted. Face palm. I think it’s time that I “unlike” your FB page.

Cruz only doubled down after Franken refuted his claims. In response to Franken’s comment that we have always had net neutrality, he brought out a rotary phone and said, “What happens when government starts regulating something as a public utility? It calcifies everything, it freezes it in place.” Holding up the rotary phone, he said, “This is regulated.” Then he lifted his iPhone and said, “This is not.” The FCC hasn’t mandated rental rotary phones for 30 years, but iPhones, used as phones, are still regulated.

Big business, including ISPs, cannot be trusted. Anecdotal evidence shows that some of them block users’ email service through crippling encryptions, thus serving as gatekeepers to the Internet. Postal services such as FedEx or USPS cannot legally modify the contents of communications if they don’t approve of language or references to competing businesses. Postal carriers cannot edit letters.

Many people don’t even have choices about ISPs. I live in a small community that is controlled by Charter. Without net neutrality, the company could do anything it wants. That’s the opposite of freedom.

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