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10-21-2010, 07:46 AM
Net neutrality needed to keep ISP "wolves" at bay
By Nate Anderson | Last updated about 13 hours ago
Are Internet service providers more like wolves, foxes, bridge owners, or priests with the “sacred role of making available to citizens a forum for speech and self-expression"? According to the American Civil Liberties Union, ISPs are like all four; it's the government's job to make sure that they behave more like the priests than like the wolves, foxes, and discriminatory toll collectors.
In an analogy-stuffed new paper (http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/NetNeutrality_report_20101019.pdf) (PDF) on network neutrality, the ACLU argues that the Internet has now entered its “third stage.” The first stage was the dial-up era, where a million ISPs bloomed across the US and competition was rampant thanks to common carrier regulation of the telephone network. In the second stage, the “constant vigilance and loud campaigning of Internet activists” kept network neutrality provisions in play even as the regulatory basis for them crumbled.
Now we come to the third stage, where “the giant for-profit companies that now dominate Internet access do not want to be constrained by network neutrality rules.” Thanks to a 2010 court decision in favor of Comcast, the FCC has lost much of its ability to enforce nondiscrimination principles on the Internet. Combine this with the recent rise of deep packet inspection hardware, and the ACLU foresees a brave new world of filtering and control “which could fundamentally alter the architectural structure of the Internet.”
Many of the arguments here are familiar, and are made in the service of a basic argument: the FCC must impose some level of common carrier rules on ISPs to keep the Internet open. If that doesn't happen, we could be looking at Internet packages that look a lot like (gulp) cable TV packages:
The ACLU's Internet nightmare
But the paper does make several succinct points worth noting.
Public pressure is not enough in a noncompetitive market. Internet activists and ordinary 'Net users have reacted vociferously to each newly publicized attack on perceived neutrality. The pressure was great enough that companies like Comcast altered their most objectionable practices and have not re-introduced them even after a favorable court ruling.
But relying on the vigilance of volunteers and activists has limits, especially because of the information asymmetry between those who build an ISP network and those who use it. It can be terrifically difficult to determine exactly what an ISP is doing with its packets. "Violations of network neutrality are not always easily detectable,” says the ACLU, and it notes that the atmosphere of vigilance “cannot last forever."
A free speech issue? The ACLU claims that network neutrality is a free speech issue, because the Internet is the best platform ever created for disseminating one's views cheaply and widely. But when claims about “free speech” are thrown around on Internet message boards, one sometimes suspects a lack of understanding on the part of the commenter; in the US, "freedom of speech" means freedom from government interference.
The ACLU makes this point, but then argues that freedom of speech does still have some meaning when applied to Internet providers. “Access to the Internet is provided by private corporations enabled by the government, and protecting the same interests and values that the First Amendment protects, requires in this case that the government creates strong policies against incursion by companies that are, at root, profit-seeking rather than civic-minded.”
The exaflood! As for the idea that discriminatory network management might be necessary to keep the Internet from melting down, especially under the tidal wave of streaming and downloadable video now flooding the 'Net, the ACLU paper makes a sensible point.
“At any given time, there will always be applications that are too data-intensive to be performed over the Internet. Ten years ago, high definition streaming video overtaxed the Internet's carrying capacity. At every point in the future, there will probably be other applications that are just out of reach. That line will continue to move as always happens. Does it make sense for America to allow the architecture of the Internet to be changed in ways that are dangerous for free speech and innovation, in order to push that line slightly forward—for some applications—rather than continuing to invest in general increases in Internet carrying capacity that will soon wash away current limits?"
A parable, and some wolves
This isn't a paper that will change any minds already made up, but it is a surprisingly readable overview of the network neutrality debate. How many tech policy papers come with their own "parable," anyway? (Note: you can tell it's a tech policy paper because even the parable features two footnotes.)In order to help farmers bring their goods to market, a town awards a company a charter to build a bridge across a river and gives the company the right to collect a toll. But the toll collector begins treating farmers differently—making some wait longer to cross, and charging higher tolls to some farmers based on the food that the farmer is carrying, whether the bridge keeper approves of the farmer’s lifestyle and politics, and whether the farmers are willing to make individual side deals with the bridge keeper.
In response, farmers and others call for the city to declare the bridge a common carrier—impose a “bridge neutrality” rule that says it can still charge a toll but cannot discriminate among those who pass. Friends and beneficiaries of the bridgekeeper protest that such a rule would interfere with the “free market.” But the bridge is not much of a market—and permitting the bridgekeeper to do these things actually distorts the other marketplace that depends upon it, as farmers with inferior produce gain an advantage just because they have gained favor with the bridge keeper and can bring their vegetables across more cheaply. The city’s action doesn’t threaten markets; to the contrary it protects them and helps them operate for the maximum benefit of all.
Or, if you're looking for something a little more crowd-pleasing, there's always the last paragraph quote from Isaiah Berlin:
"Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.”
And just to dispel any doubt, you're the sheep.
12-13-2010, 10:03 AM
Net Neutrality Rules should cover Wireless
By Matthew Lasar | 12/13/2010
We're about ten days and counting from the Federal Communications Commission issuing an Order (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/12/did-the-fcc-just-bless-a-capped-two-tier-internet.ars) with net neutrality rules, but one of three Democrats on the FCC who supports the idea now says that the draft on the table might not go far enough. That would be Mignon Clyburn, who told (http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2010/db1209/DOC-303447A1.pdf) the Practicing Law Institute's annual telecommunications summit that she "still has many questions" about the proposal, particularly whether it adequately covers wireless broadband.
"Do we have a consensus item in front of us?" Clyburn asked out loud on Thursday. "I think we are pretty close. But my focus over the coming days will be to ensure that we are thinking through the implications of the wireless piece of the item. While I recognize that there are distinctions between wired and wireless networks, I think it is essential that our wireless networks—those of the present and future—grow in an open way just as our wired ones have."
Same experience required
This sentiment runs contrary to the intentions of FCC Chair Julius Genachowski, who offered a sneak preview (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/12/throttle-away.ars) of the Order on December 1. The rules will bar indeed "unreasonable discrimination" on wired networks, but wireless operators get a free pass, as long as they tell everybody what they're doing and don't throw a total block in front of traffic.
That's not enough for Clyburn, it seems. This principle of "equality" is crucial, she told the Practicing Law crowd, because some consumers rely entirely on wireless services for their broadband experience.
"We should ensure that, while there are two kinds of networks, we don't cause the development of two kinds of Internet worlds," Clyburn warned. "Aside from technical differences, the basic user experience should be the same."
Does this mean that Clyburn will throw a wrench into the works? Hard to tell. The Washington Post's Cecelia Kang (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/posttech/2010/12/a_proposed_net_neutrality_regu.html) quotes a "source at the FCC" whose seen the draft Order and says that the rules will also include paid prioritization, allowing ISPs to privilege their own content above those of providers like Netflix.
"This allows for fast and slow lanes and while it suggests it would be a negative thing, nowhere does it say it violates the principle of rules," the source told The Post.
Dirt road ahead
It should come as no surprise that 80 public interest and community organizations are bearing down hard on the Commission to come up with a tougher Order.
"Paid prioritization is the antithesis of openness," they warned the FCC (http://fjallfoss.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7020922969) on Friday. "Any framework that does not prohibit such economic discrimination arrangements is not real Net Neutrality. Without a clear ban on such practices, ISPs will move forward with their oft-stated plans to exploit their dominant position and favor their own content and services and those of a few select paying partners through faster delivery, relegating everyone else to the proverbial dirt road."
Signed, The New America Foundation, The Future of Music Coalition, Mother Jones magazine, Common Cause, and The United Church of Christ's Office of Communications, among other groups.
Interestingly, there seems to be one area where both supporters and opponents of net neutrality agree—the new Order may be based on very question legal terrain. Genachowski's announcement (http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2010/db1201/DOC-303136A1.pdf) that the FCC will not rest it on limited common carrier rules rooted in Title II of the Communications Act doesn't sit well with these organizations. After all, in April the DC Circuit Court of Appeals declared bogus the agency's attempt to punish P2P-throttler Comcast based on Title I "ancillary authority."
Staying with Title I "is an unnecessary risk, not only to the Net Neutrality rule, but to the FCC’s entire broadband agenda," the groups say. "The FCC must restore its unquestionable authority to protect consumers, promote adoption and deployment, and serve the public interest in the broadband market."
Can't go back
Ditto (from a very different vantage point), declared Republican FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker, who also spoke (http://www.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2010/db1209/DOC-303457A1.pdf) at the Practicing Law conference.
"With respect to Net Neutrality specifically, the court did not say go back and think creatively about how to contort the statute to discover or discern new authority," Baker observed. "Yet, that is how we intend to proceed. The Chairman’s approach would have the Commission adopt policies far more intrusive than those previously rejected under effectively the same legal analysis. I see nothing that has changed so significantly in the past eight months with respect to our statutory authority to suggest a different outcome if, and when, our action is challenged."
In fairness to the FCC's Democratic majority, the DC Circuit didn't tell the agency what to do next, one way or the other. It just said the Commission couldn't act as it had against Comcast based on the statutory language that the government invoked. But if both sides of the net neutrality debate are questioning Genachowski's new legal logic well in advance of a published Order, it's safe to say that this latest bid is a crap shoot.
How much? That depends on how it gets enforced, and who takes it to court, and when.
01-07-2011, 09:28 AM
Net neutrality fight far from over
by Larry Downes - January 7, 2011 4:00 AM PST
Editor's note: This is a guest column. See Larry Downes' bio below.
LAS VEGAS--Attendees at a standing-room-only debate over Net neutrality were treated to a rare occurrence at the Consumer Electronics Show today: consensus.
Unfortunately, all that senior Federal Communications Commission and congressional officials, along with representatives from industry and public interest groups could agree on was that the fight over the FCC's controversial new "open Internet" regulations is far from over.
The discussion took place as part of CES (http://ces.cnet.com/)'s Tech Policy Summit, running through Saturday in Las Vegas.
The FCC voted 3-2 at its December 21 meeting to approve new broadband regulations (http://news.cnet.com/8301-30686_3-20026283-266.html) covering Web site blocking, traffic discrimination, and network management transparency. A few days later, it issued its nearly 200-page report. Many analysts and neutrality activists assumed this would put an end to a rancorous debate that has raged off and on for over five years.
But even FCC Chief of Staff Ed Lazarus acknowledged that the December vote, which came on the heels of a new Congress decidedly less friendly to Net neutrality than the last one, was only the first step in a long process. "We addressed the problems we saw," he said. "We'll stop there for now. If other things come up that pose anticompetitive or consumer problems, then we'll revisit."
Rick Whitt, Google's Washington telecom and media counsel, agreed that Net neutrality is "an iterative process," and that the rulemaking last month was just "the initial foray" for the Commission. He was responding to concerns raised by moderator Cecilia Kang of The Washington Post that the rules as adopted gave different treatment to wireline and mobile broadband, and whether doing so created a "two-tier" Internet. "The rules adopted don't bind [the FCC] in the future," he said.
Google, once an advocate for strong neutrality rules for both wired and wireless access, is satisfied with this first effort.
Indeed, the open Internet rules approved by the FCC closely matched a proposal made jointly last summer by Google and Verizon, which was the first to propose separate treatment for mobile broadband. Google now agrees with its one-time adversary that constraints on broadband spectrum and robust competition called for a lighter regulatory touch, or what Lazarus referred to as "regulatory humility."
But other panelists had a different view of the next stage in the battle over Net neutrality. Verizon Executive Vice President Tom Tauke acknowledged that the company is unhappy with the new rules and pointedly refused to dispel rumors that the company is preparing to challenge them in court.
Verizon objects to the rules on substantive and procedural grounds. On the substance, Tauke noted that the Internet ecosystem has evolved to give others besides broadband access providers the potential to interfere with customer preferences in using sites, services, applications and devices of their choice. Device manufacturers, operating system developers, and application providers all have increased leverage, he said, to dictate user behaviors if they choose to do so. It makes little sense, Tauke said, only to regulate the carriers.
On the process, Tauke argued that the FCC "operated at a huge disadvantage" in passing the rules, as Congress has never given the agency the authority to regulate broadband. Indeed, the FCC lost a court challenge in May, when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned sanctions levied against Comcast for throttling some customers' BitTorrent traffic. The court held that the 1996 Communications Act did not authorize FCC oversight of broadband.
Tauke believes that it should be for Congress, and not the FCC, to determine how broadband access should be regulated, a view shared by many of the panelists.
Indeed, just days into the new Congress, there are already indications that reversing the FCC's new rules is a priority for Republicans. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), introduced legislation on Wednesday to make clear the FCC has no authority over broadband. At least one Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren (Okla), was among 60 congressmen who supported the bill. In the Senate, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), ranking member of the Commerce Committee, has also called for legislation to overturn the rules.
Such legislation, of course, would require a majority of both the House and Senate to pass, and could face a veto from President Obama, who praised the FCC's new rules soon after the FCC vote in December.
But Neil Fried, chief legal counsel on telecommunications for the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce, believes anti-neutrality legislation has a good chance. He noted that 95 Democratic candidates for Congress who signed a pro-Net neutrality pledge all lost their races, and he sees the strong Republican showing in the mid-term elections as a strong indication that Americans want less, not more, government intervention, especially in industries that are weathering the economic downturn.
Fried, an outspoken critic of the rules, compared the FCC to the Ministry of Truth, the agency in George Orwell's "1984" that is responsible for rewriting the news to suit the repressive goals of Big Brother.
In the interest of ensuring that Internet entrepreneurs need never "ask for permission to innovate" from broadband providers, he sees the new rules as ensuring "everyone has to ask permission" from the FCC. "Freedom is slavery," Fried said, quoting the favorite slogan of the fictional government.
Fried and other panelists worry that the broad authority the FCC claimed for itself, argued in the teeth of the court's contrary Comcast decision, suggests the agency has become "untethered." He promised that the now-Republican led Commerce Committee will take up the FCC's rules as its first telecommunications issue, including a series of hearings.
"Overreaching of authority is not something we can skip over," Fried said, noting that the Commission's thin legal justification for neutrality authority could apply to any subject with "even the remotest connection to broadband." For example, the FCC could use the same justification to pass strict new privacy regulations, an area the FCC indicated interest in as part of last year's National Broadband Plan.
For his part, Roger Sherman, now minority counsel on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is confident the president would veto any congressional effort to overturn the rules. But he also expects a court challenge, and notes that former Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), tried to address Net Neutrality in legislation circulated just prior to the mid-term elections. "If Republicans want to talk about real ways [to regulate the internet]," he said, "we're open to that." What's the Problem?
As the new rules make their way through likely legislative and legal challenges, it's not even clear how if at all they will affect consumer Internet access. The FCC, Lazarus concluded, is now positioned to be "the cop on the beat" for broadband access providers. But while Lazarus defended the vote as having "addressed the problems we had seen" and no more, the FCC's own report described its new regulations as "prophylactic rules," a phrase that appears 11 times in the document.
Indeed, the agency cited only four incidents in the last 10 years it considers to be true violations of the principle of an open Internet (including the Comcast case). As I explained elsewhere in a detailed analysis of the new rules, the rules the agency finally adopted would cover few if any of even this handful of incidents.
And Lazarus refused to rule out the possibility that the agency will go ahead with a controversial proposal made in the wake of the Comcast decision to "reclassify" broadband Internet access and subject it to common carrier rules last used for the former telephone monopoly.
A "Notice of Inquiry" on reclassification is still open, and the FCC has no plans to close it, Lazarus said. A bipartisan majority of the previous Congress signed letters urging the FCC not to proceed with that inquiry, which stands on even shakier legal ground than the net neutrality rules actually adopted last month.
So for now seems that the prediction of Verizon's Tauke is the most likely scenario for Net neutrality and those who follow it. Absent substantive congressional review of communications law, Tauke expects "we'll be in the same place in a few years as we are now." There will be "a lot of stirring" by Internet activists, "the FCC will act, and the courts will overturn them."
Seems like an awful lot of wasted effort for a problem that, by most accounts, hasn't even appeared yet. But as Google's Whitt reminded the audience, "Nothing happens in Washington by large steps."
http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/bn/mugs/blog_larry_downes_60x60.png Larry Downes (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-20027724-94.html?tag=topStories3)
Full Profile (http://news.cnet.com/8301-1035_3-20027724-94.html?tag=topStories3) E-mail Larry Downes
Larry Downes (http://larrydownes.com/) is a consultant and author. His books include "Unleashing the Killer App (http://www.amazon.com/Unleashing-Killer-App-Strategies-Dominance/dp/087584801X)" and, most recently, "The Laws of Disruption: Harnessing the New Forces that Govern Life and Business in the Digital Age (http://www.amazon.com/Laws-Disruption-Harnessing-Business-Digital/dp/0465018645)."
01-28-2011, 07:25 AM
Senators Cantwell and Franken introduce bill
to revise net neutrality rules
By Tim Conneally | Published January 25, 2011, 4:24 PM
Tuesday, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wa.) introduced a bill called The Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection act of 2011 on behalf of herself and co-sponsor Senator Al Franken (D-Mn.)
Both Cantwell and Franken have expressed public concern about net neutrality in the wake of the FCC's passage of the Open Internet Order (http://www.betanews.com/article/For-better-or-worse-here-are-the-FCCs-new-Net-Neutrality-rules/1292957304) and approval of Comcast's joint content venture with NBC Universal (http://www.betanews.com/article/Conditionheavy-approval-given-to-ComcastNBCU-merger-by-FCC-and-DOJ/1295382839), and this bill seeks to create stronger guidelines for net neutrality.
Specifically, this bill suggests that a new section in Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 be created, based on the FCC's 2009 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (http://www.betanews.com/article/FCC-advances-net-neutrality-rules-for-wireless-carriers/1256231119) in which the commission laid out six core net neutrality principles.
The bill offers an outright prohibition on paid prioritization, a subject which has been a great concern for consumer advocacy groups (http://www.betanews.com/article/Group-finds-5-main-flaws-with-proposed-Net-Neutrality-rules/1292014505); and also calls for broadband providers to work with local "middle mile" providers for fair and reasonable network management conditions.
Additionally, the bill (.pdf here (http://cantwell.senate.gov/news/012511_Net_Neutrality_bill_text.pdf)) calls for a minimum standard for "just and reasonable" fees, practices, classifications and regulations related to broadband access, so that when any of these are violated by service providers, customers would be able to file a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court or a formal complaint with the FCC.
"Without the strong protections provided by this bill, broadband Internet providers will likely favor their own or affiliated content, service, and applications because they have the economic incentives and technical means to do so," said Senator Cantwell in a statement Tuesday afternoon. "This could lead to a tiered Internet with premium fast lanes and slow lanes for the rest of us. We can't afford to let this happen if our nation is to achieve the important broadband goals put forward in the National Broadband Plan."
03-01-2011, 07:38 AM
Republicans: No compromise possible on net neutrality
By Nate Anderson | Last updated about 17 hours ago
http://static.arstechnica.net/2011/02/28/barking-dogs.jpg The recently installed Republican Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH), has no intention of finding any compromise on network neutrality. If he can't override the new rules, he will work to defund their enforcement. And if that doesn't work, he will continue railing against a "government takeover of the Internet" in speeches until something gets done.
Boehner gave his first speech outside of Washington DC as Speaker of the House yesterday, appearing at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Nashville Tennessee. The speech moved quickly from a discussion of that morning's sermon text (“No man can serve two masters”) to a discussion of God's love of humility to an assertion that America was founded on said humility and that this in turn led to the freedoms that Americans enjoy.
Those freedoms are now “under attack by power structure in Washington populated with regulators who have never set foot inside a radio station or television studio." That's right—net neutrality is Boehner's top bogeyman, reminding us just how seriously Republicans take the issue.
John Boehner's speech to the National Religious Broadcasters
The Congressional fight over net neutrality looks set to be a brutal one. From the speech: The last thing we need, in my view, is the FCC serving as Internet traffic controller, and potentially running roughshod over local broadcasters who have been serving their communities with free content for decades.
At the end of the last Congress, some members of Congress sought a compromise on net neutrality that would give Washington temporary control of the Internet while we sort this all out.
As far as I'm concerned, there is no compromise or middle ground when it comes to protecting our most basic freedoms.
So our new majority in the House is committed to using every tool at our disposal to fight a government takeover of the Internet…
We're also going to do what we can to see that no taxpayer dollars are used to fund these net neutrality rules.
In the audience was Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the member of Congress who has already introduced legislation (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2011/01/net-neutrality-fight-gop-wields-garlic-against-fcc-vampires.ars) to strip the FCC of any net neutrality powers.
Last December, Blackburn compared the FCC to “vampires” who want nothing more than to leap onto the backs of unsuspecting American businesses and sink their fangs deep into the sweet, sweet lifeblood.
Among her charges, Blackburn claimed that the FCC was “effectively nationalizing the Web” with its new rules. Fortunately, the Republicans were wielding the garlic and a wooden stake.
“Industry and creative content providers who were coerced into this deal by an over zealous FCC Chairman should take heart," she wrote. "Like the breaking of dawn, the new Congress will prove a swift antidote to the federal bloodsucker you found at your throat this Christmas."
With Boehner and Blackburn leading the charge on net neutrality, possibilities for any sort of compromise agreement appear remote. The real battle will take place in the Senate, where Democrats maintain a majority, but are not all united behind network neutrality, despite President Obama's campaign promise to support the principle.
03-15-2011, 09:05 AM
Al Franken seeks Net neutrality support at SXSW
by Marguerite Reardon - March 14, 2011 3:19 PM PDT
AUSTIN, Texas--U.S. Sen. Al Franken wants tech savvy entrepreneurs to keep pushing Congress to protect Net neutrality.
Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.)
(Credit: Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.))
http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2011/03/14/Al_Franken-Senator_270x424.jpg Franken (D-Minn.), a comedy writer, author, and radio talk show host turned senator, spoke to attendees at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival (SXSW (http://www.cnet.com/8300-14013_1-284.html)) conference here today where he urged them contact their representatives in Congress and let them know that protecting a free and open Internet is important. He also wants this community of creative business people to attend rallies and do all they can to raise awareness of the issue.
In his speech, he railed against big broadband service providers, such as Comcast, and accused them of plotting the demise of video streaming provider Netflix. He said that the "endgame for Comcast is to put Netflix out of business entirely, leaving you with no choice except Comcast's programming."
He said he doesn't want to change the Internet, but he warned that without rules of the road, big companies could dictate which Web sites people go to and could ultimately limit the content that's on the Net. Franken's fear is that big cable and telecom providers are looking to shut out smaller content providers by forcing them to pay extra to have their content delivered to consumers. In this type of Internet, consumers would pay more and have far fewer choices in the content they could access.
In essence, he said big cable and telcos would kill the one creative outlet left to independent musicians, filmmakers, and other creative types.
"Let's not sell out," he urged the audience. "And let's not let the government sell us out. Let's fight for Net neutrality. Let's keep Austin weird. Let's keep the Internet weird. Let's keep the Internet free."
Franken has been publicly advocating for Net neutrality regulation since his questioning of then U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor in 2009. Franken has described Net neutrality as the most important free speech issue of our time. Earlier this year, Franken and Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) introduced the Internet Freedom, Broadband Promotion, and Consumer Protection Act of 2011 (http://www.franken.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=1275), which would put the Federal Communications Commission's Net neutrality principles into law.
CNET sat down with Franken here before his speech. Below is an excerpt of the conversation in which he shared more of his views on Net neutrality.
Q: There are no official Net neutrality regulations today, and yet people with Internet service in the U.S. can go to any Web site they want. There have been no complaints of providers blocking traffic or preventing people from accessing content, so what exactly is your fear?Franken: I'm concerned about the concentration of ownership over the pipes. And I'm worried about the stated intention or desire of the big providers to implement paid prioritization. That would really change the rules of the road. My desire is to essentially keep the rules of the road the same for the Internet so that we can continue to have an open and free Internet.
There are fewer and fewer Internet service providers that own the pipes of the Internet. And they want to set up a fast lane so that you get information and they want content owners to pay them to deliver their traffic.
But service providers already offer paid prioritization services to businesses. They have for years. How is this different?Franken: I'm talking about consumer services. If you are home and you have Internet access from Comcast, you get e-mails from your crazy uncle as fast as you get them from President Obama. What I am afraid of is that service providers are going to charge content owners. I can pay for coach ticket or first class. And that means that the normal consumer is not getting all information at the same speed. If you look at how YouTube was started over a pizza shop, if GoogleTV had been able to pay for faster service there would be no YouTube. What I am saying is that this would kill innovation. I want to keep the Internet the way it's been so that consumers get material on a neutral basis.
I know you weren't in favor of the Comcast merger with NBC. How does this merger affect Net neutrality? Are the two things related at all?Franken: Yes, the issues are related. Once you have more concentration, you have fewer and fewer companies that essentially own the pipes. Then you have a situation where there are four or five companies that own everything.
But if concentration and lack of competition is the problem, why not do something about the consolidation in the infrastructure and content businesses instead of adding new regulation?Franken: I opposed that merger. And our legislation--Senator Cantwell and I have proposed legislation that would allow the FCC to pass rules and enforce them.
The thing about Comcast and NBC and how it relates to what I've seen in the past is that you can't trust them to do what they say they will do. I saw that when the networks were given the right to own TV content. They swore up and down they wouldn't favor their own programming and it only took two years and they were doing just that.
Comcast is the largest broadband provider to homes, what if AT&T buys CBS and Verizon buys ABC? Then you have four or five companies owning everything.
When the Comcast-NBC merger was being considered, I had people coming to me, small- to medium-sized cable networks coming to me and saying we really need you to oppose this. But we can't oppose it publicly because we're afraid of retaliation. If that isn't the definition of anticompetitive or isn't a sign that someone has too large a market position, I don't know what is.
Are current antitrust laws and regulations too weak to deal with this issue? Franken: No, I think existing antitrust regulations are strong enough. Part of our bill says that Net neutrality violations would be antitrust violations.
AT&T just announced usage caps on its DSL and U-verse broadband service (http://news.cnet.com/8301-30686_3-20042839-266.html). What do you think about that?Franken: At least that is the user being billed. I don't have as big a problem with that model. The problem I have is charging content providers for access. That separates the content providers by their ability to pay. And to me that is dangerous. Service providers are allowed to manage their networks.
But what about content and services where differentiated quality of service is really necessary? Shouldn't service providers be allowed to offer those services?Franken: Well, there is going to be a need for this with services like telemedicine. There will have to be the ability to provide that.
Telemedicine is one service. What about services we haven't even thought of yet? If you pass regulation now, won't that potentially limit innovations for other services in the future that haven't even been dreamed up yet? Franken: I don't think so. We know telemedicine is one thing that needs that high priority. And there will be room to allow for other things.
Cable companies and phone companies essentially agreed to most of what Net neutrality backers were asking for in the FCC's new rules on the wireline side. And Comcast agreed to these provisions in its deal with NBC. Isn't the real issue that wireless was left out of the FCC's regulations?Franken: That is part of the problem, but just because they (Comcast and other service providers) say now that they agree with the rules, doesn't mean they will abide by them later. It's comparable to what the networks did with "Fin-Syn," or "Financial Interest in Syndication" rules. These rules had prevented corporations that owned the pipelines over which content was distributed on TV--broadcast networks--from owning that content. Broadcasters asked that to be rescinded and once it was, they went back on what they promised. Now, independent fiction TV went from being 75 percent of programming to 2 percent. There was an actual moment where that could have been stopped. And that is what I am trying to stop here. It was clear to me then as much as it is now that just because they are saying they won't do something that it doesn't mean they won't do it. Network TV executives had the nerve in the hearings about the merger to deny what had happened on Fin Syn. In office, Comcast said they'd abide by the rules that the FCC adopted, but at the same time they went to court and said those rules were unconstitutional.
05-05-2011, 06:34 AM
FCC chief to Congress: Leave Net neutrality alone
by Declan McCullagh - May 4, 2011 10:48 PM PDT
The head of the Federal Communications Commission will warn Congress not to repeal the controversial Internet regulations enacted last December, CNET has learned.
Undoing the agency's Net neutrality rules will "increase uncertainty, decrease investment, and hurt job creation," FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski (http://fcc.gov/commissioners/genachowski/) will say, according to a draft of his prepared remarks.
Genachowski will offer an unyielding, point-by-point defense of the FCC's 3-2 vote, which fell along party lines, saying that it's already increased investment and that relying on antitrust laws to police errant behavior would be "problematic" and "ill-suited to the fast-changing nature of Internet technology."
The Democratic chairman's remarks highlight how polarized--and partisan--the Washington debate over regulation of broadband providers' business practices has become.
http://i.i.com.com/cnwk.1d/i/tim/2011/05/04/jg.jpg FCC chairman Julius Genachowski
Robert McDowell, a Republican FCC commissioner, is also testifying before a House of Representatives committee and is likely to reprise his earlier warnings that the agency has no legal authority to enact the rules, that antitrust laws are sufficient, and that the regulations will cause more harm than good.
Sentiments in Congress have cleaved even more sharply along party lines. The House voted (http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20052236-281.html) 240 to 179 last month to block the FCC's decision, a move that will invite a confrontation with President Obama if the Senate follows suit. All but two Republicans backed the measure, while only six Democrats did.
Genachowski, a former Obama 2008 campaign and transition team official, appears to be intent on fulfilling the president's promises (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-10187067-38.html) made three years ago.
During the 2008 campaign, Obama told CNET (http://news.cnet.com/Technology-Voters-Guide-Barack-Obama/2100-1028_3-6224109.html) that "I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to Network neutrality." By contrast, In February, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced (http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20037498-281.html) that "our new majority in the House is committed to using every tool at our disposal to fight a government takeover of the Internet."
Last December, the FCC released the text of its 194-page document (PDF) (http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-10-201A1.pdf) that explained (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20026581-38.html) how broadband providers' business practices will be affected.
In April 2010, a federal appeals court unceremoniously slapped down (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20001825-38.html) the agency's earlier attempt to impose Net neutrality penalties on Comcast after the company temporarily throttled (http://news.cnet.com/Comcast,-BitTorrent-bury-the-hatchet/2009-1032_3-6235815.html) some BitTorrent transfers, ruling Congress had given the agency no legal authority to do so. Verizon and MetroPCS have filed a second lawsuit raising many of the same arguments.
05-06-2011, 07:20 AM
A "Rube Goldberg theory of regulation": Net neutrality hearing gets testy
By Nate Anderson | Last updated: about 14 hours ago
This morning's net neutrality hearing took ten seconds to turn adversarial. Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) opened the House Judiciary Committee meeting with a series of broadsides against the Federal Communications Commission and its chair, Julius Genachowski, seated below him at the witness table.
The FCC's December order instituting basic net neutrality rules (http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/news/2010/12/its-here-fcc-adopts-net-neutrality-lite.ars) on wireline networks "circumvents Congress' lawmaking authority," said Goodlatte. It's "the role of Congress to make the laws… The open Internet order exceeds the FCC's power—Congress has never given the FCC the authority to impose this top-down" approach to Internet services.
The FCC's legal argument authorizing the rules amounted to a "Rube Goldberg theory of regulation," said Goodlatte, in which a long chain of events might eventually produce a legal policy decision. "You don't grow an industry by regulating it."
He closed by demanding "a public explanation for the Commission's overreach."
What's wrong with satellite?
Genachowski smiled placidly as he was raked over the coals; even his contention that many Americans live under a broadband duopoly was treated as a ludicrous argument.
"I know a monopoly when I see one, and there is no place in American that I know of where 90 percent of people in any state or region live under a monopoly or duopoly," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). "If you have satellite or cellular, you already have two" choices before DSL or cable even enter the equation.
Issa, adopting the manner of man who has caught a dim-witted opponent between the steely pincers of his own logic, glowered at Genachowski during his questioning. "Should we make gasoline and diesel the same price?" he thundered.
Genachowski looked baffled. He shrugged, attempted to make a comment about how he was no expert in the economics of petroleum products, but was cut off. Issa didn't want to hear "flowery" language. He repeated the question. "Should we make gasoline and diesel the same price, yes or no?"
Genachowski had to struggle through several minutes of these "yes or no!" questions, including, "Should we regulate everything so it's good for the consumer?" before a time limit brought Issa's questions to a close.
Some Democrats pushed back. "Let's not start this conversation off this morning with 'Everything is OK'," said Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), in talking about broadband. And Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) expressed puzzlement at the intensity of Congressional anger at the topic.
"The fighting is inexplicably here in the committee when the commercial world has moved on," she said, noting the many tech companies in her Silicon Valley district who have welcomed the new rules.
On the other hand, Rep. Howard Berman (D-CA) had only a single question for Genachowski: net neutrality wouldn't prevent ISPs from blocking copyright content shared online, would it? With that concern addressed, Berman had nothing else to ask.
The hearing did offer a bit of encouragement to Internet users; despite their bitter disagreements over process and policy, both Republicans and Democrats could agree on the biggest of big-picture goals: the Internet should be "open."
Even Issa softened a bit when he finally admitted, "There were a few isolated instances [of ISP behavior] that needed to be looked at." He was even open to "some sort of guidance as to fairness and equality," so long as that guidance didn't resemble a "rule."
For the Republicans, the preference was to rescind the FCC order and protect openness, however defined, through existing antitrust law.
Genachowski wasn't convinced, of course, arguing that no small startup has the time or capital to fight some of the largest communications companies on the planet for years in court to secure an antitrust remedy. But FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell, seated at Genachowski's side, was happy to have the net neutrality order overturned.
Competition is what was needed, not regulation, he said, noting his own support for opening TV "white spaces" to broadband and for liberating apartment dwellings from onerous building-wide contracts to a specific provider.
11-09-2011, 07:38 AM
Obama threatens to veto Net neutrality repeal
by Declan McCullagh November 8, 2011 4:30 PM PST
The White House today threatened to veto a proposal to overturn the federal government's controversial Net neutrality regulations.
Opponents of the rules, which the Federal Communications Commission adopted (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20026581-38.html) by a 3-2 party line vote last December, have scheduled a Senate vote this week that would lift the regulations before they take effect on November 20.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) said today (http://hutchison.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=847) that the administration's enthusiasm for Internet regulation is another example of its anti-business outlook.
The Internet, she said, "has been the cradle of innovation, it does not have a problem, and it does not need fixing. More regulation of the Internet is going to stop the investments, it's going to stop the creativity--and put our businesses and our providers at a competitive disadvantage with Europeans and others that have kept their Internet free of over-regulation."
The White House's veto threat (PDF (http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/legislative/sap/112/sapsjr6s_20111108.pdf)) also stressed pro-innovation themes. "It would be ill-advised to threaten the very foundations of innovation in the Internet economy and the democratic spirit that has made the Internet a force for social progress around the world," the statement said.
Today's threat effectively makes it far more difficult for Thursday's vote to succeed. Two-thirds of Senate and House members must agree to override a presidential veto.
By a 240 to 179 vote, the House of Representatives already adopted (http://news.cnet.com/8301-31921_3-20052236-281.html) the resolution required to overturn the FCC's rules. Only 240 "yes" votes would not be enough to overturn a veto, if that vote was held again today.
A resolution of disapproval is a formal process, outlined in the Congressional Review Act (http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/laws/congressional-review/802.html), that permits Congress to overturn decisions of federal agencies. It requires both the House and the Senate to vote, and is subject to a presidential veto, but is not subject to a filibuster and only requires 51 votes to clear the Senate.
In April 2010, a federal appeals court unceremoniously slapped down (http://news.cnet.com/8301-13578_3-20001825-38.html) the agency's earlier attempt to impose Net neutrality penalties on Comcast after the company temporarily throttled (http://news.cnet.com/Comcast,-BitTorrent-bury-the-hatchet/2009-1032_3-6235815.html) some BitTorrent transfers.
Verizon Communications and MetroPCS filed another lawsuit this year to overturn the FCC's regulations (http://news.cnet.com/8301-30686_3-20030087-266.html). The companies met with an early setback because of a legal technicality--a court said the lawsuit was premature--so they filed it again this fall. The lawsuit claims the FCC overstepped its authority by adopting regulations that deal with blocking traffic and unreasonably discriminating against traffic on their network.
When is this lame duck Administration going act upon the REAL and Genuine issues facing this country? JOBS & ECONOMY?
Why all the whacky attention diversions?
Will OBLAH BLAH ever wake up?
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