Net Neutrality and Contacting the FCC (Before May 15th)

FCCThe FCC will be voting on May 15th to approve new rules which will essentially wreck the fair and neutral internet we all enjoy. We’ve detailed the proposal in another post, but the long and short of it is ISP’s are already allowed to degrade services as they see fit. If these new rules go into effect, ISP’s will be allowed to charge different rates to every online service. Those new added costs will likely be passed on to consumers, or might create a barrier too high for start ups to consider paying, ultimately punishing any service which becomes more popular than a carrier would like.

The announcement has sparked off a pretty visceral reaction from advocacy groups and the tech-ier folks out there. Enough noise has been made for the FCC to request comments be sent to a special email address set up specifically for this discussion: openinternet@fcc.gov.

Now the cynic in me would be afraid that email is essentially the digital equivalent of a “rectangular filing cabinet” (or rubbish bin) to keep all these complaints from filling up the important inboxes. In hedging our bets on messages actually making an impact, at least by sheer quantity, you can also reach out to the individual commissioners on the FCC by going to http://www.fcc.gov/contact-us. There you’ll also find an email for Chairman Tom Wheeler who proposed these new rules.

But maybe that’s not enough.  Continue reading “Net Neutrality and Contacting the FCC (Before May 15th)”

FCC Backpedals on Net Neutrality: The Death of the Fair Internet

FCCBroken by the Wall Street Journal, in a disappointing turn around from their previous position on protecting fair pricing and net neutrality, the FCC will be proposing new rules allowing internet carriers to negotiate individual rates with content providers for a guaranteed “high speed lane”.

This means a company like Netflix will have to undergo distinct negotiations with TimeWarner, Verizon FiOS, Comcast, and every other ISP, to pay additional rates for bandwidth and to reduce the threat of their service getting throttled.

ISP’s can also negotiate separate rates for different services, meaning they can be the gate keepers. They can decide which services will be successful on their networks. If they choose, blocking certain services from competing.

Say Comcast wants to promote their own video-on-demand service, why not quadruple the rate Netflix pays for a consistent data stream? If Netflix doesn’t pay it, you can throttle the service which will upset their customers. If they do pay it, chances are pretty good they’ll eventually have to pass those costs down to their customers also upsetting them. It’s a win win for nobody except the ISPs.

This could also have a chilling effect on innovation, as any successful start up which requires any consistent bandwidth will likely be priced out of the market before they have a chance to actually build a fan base.

The proposal was drafted by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, and will be distributed to the four other FCC commissioners Thursday where it can be amended. After the amending process it will be up for a final vote on May 15th.

For those interested, here’s where you can find contact information for the members of the FCC.

Appeals Court Rules Against FCC’s Open Internet Order and Net Neutrality

FCCI’m disappointed, but I can’t say I’m terrifically surprised.

Back in September Verizon filed a claim against the FCC’s Open Internet Order, claiming the FCC was infringing their First Amendment rights to degrade the quality of service for their competitors services and products. In today’s ruling, it seems the courts largely questioned the FCC’s authority to manage broadband networks.

That said, even though the Commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates. Given that the Commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the Commission from nonetheless regulating them as such. Because the Commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order.

Not all of the OIO was scrapped however. The section dictating that carriers must disclose when they throttle or degrade service remains, as there were plenty of instances to draw upon where carriers had acted to disrupt services. So now Verizon can wreck a competitor’s service, but at least now they have to let you know they did it. How helpful.

In support of its conclusion that broadband providers could and would act to limit Internet openness, the Commission pointed to four prior instances in which they had done just that. These involved a mobile broadband provider blocking online payment services after entering into a contract with a competing service; a mobile broadband provider restricting the availability of competing VoIP and streaming video services; a fixed broadband provider blocking VoIP applications; and, of course, Comcast’s impairment of peer-to-peer file sharing that was the subject of the Comcast Order.

That might be the most frustrating aspect of how our telecommunications networks are being managed. The courts acknowledge that abuse has occurred, and is likely to occur again, but because the FCC hasn’t been explicitly granted authority to regulate the web, we’re stuck with a gaping hole in online consumer protections.

Where do we go from here?

There’s not a lot of wiggle room for the OIO. It’s pretty much wrecked. If the Legislative arm of our government were to make the FCC’s authority in this arena explicit, we could revisit those protections. However, I think it highly unlikely that there will be any traction on granting a government commission more regulatory authority in this political climate.

There’s also the Consumer Choice in Online Video Act presented by Senator Jay Rockefeller, which reads like a watered down version of the OIO. It might be a decent stop gap measure, but House Republicans have been holding it up, refusing a vote. This industry will need something more robust to insure that the internet remains a level playing field. At some point we’ll need to just admit that allowing telecoms to manage our access to the internet and prioritize their own services over competitors, is a glaring conflict of interest. In the long term, it will be bad for consumers and bad for business.

Today’s ruling stands as yet another example of how the evolution of our technology is rapidly outpacing our legal system’s ability to adapt. You can read the ruling below. Continue reading “Appeals Court Rules Against FCC’s Open Internet Order and Net Neutrality”

“Consumer Choice in Online Video Act” to prevent ISP’s from throttling competing services like Netflix

senator jay rockefellerA bill submitted Tuesday to the Senate looks like it could address several concerns we netizens have regarding the future of digital media and our relationships with internet service providers.

The “Consumer Choice in Online Video Act” presented by Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) would make it illegal for ISP’s to engage  “in unfair methods of competition or unfair or deceptive acts or practices” as it pertains to online video and other services.

Some feel there’s a conflict of interest when  company like Verizon for example, offers their own media service while maintaining the connection for competing services. Senator Rockefeller’s bill looks like it could  intersect Venn Diagram style with the FCC’s Open Internet order which Verizon is currently fighting in court. Verizon is arguing they have a first amendment right to knowingly degrade the connection for competitors utilizing their network. The FCC is claiming they have the authority to monitor and enforce net neutrality.

It’s very possible that Verizon might be able to successfully argue that the FCC does not have the authority to enforce net neutrality, so it looks like this Consumer Choice act could be a fall back position for those wanting to protect online services and competition. The bill would also include some helpful consumer additions like simpler clearer billing, more accurate usage monitoring for usage based billing and capped plans, and more support for antenna rental / online cable alternatives like Aereo.

While it’s great seeing some politicians step up to the plate on net neutrality, and this bill would certainly be better than allowing ISP’s to rig bandwidth in their favor, one has to wonder why we don’t see legislation explicitly granting the FCC the regulatory authority to protect consumer interests in this space.

You can read the full bill here (63 page PDF): Consumer Choice in Online Video Act

Do you get all the bandwidth you pay for? The FCC will release a speed test app for you to check!

ookla speedtest app screen shotBandwidth speeds and prices are a touchy subject here in the states right now. People often are surprised to see that their expensive internet plan does not guarantee a consistent top tier of speed. If you have “50 megs innernet”, that only means that your connection can burst up to that speed, not that it can sustain that speed.

To help consumers figure out if they are actually getting what they pay for, the FCC is jumping into the app business. More details will be announced on November 14th during the release, but it looks like Android users will get first crack at the FCC test app. With users contributing test results, the FCC hopes to develop a national report card for carriers and ISP’s. Seeing as how we pay more for data access than most other industrialized countries and still deal with caps and throttling, it’ll be nice to see if we actually get what we pay for.

I’m certainly interested in seeing how the app compares to other speed test apps like Ookla’s SpeedTest.net app (shown to the right). Expect a full test when the FCC’s solution drops!

Verizon and FCC addressing Appellate Court today over Net Neutrality

Verizon-logoI’m not sure that’s how the First Amendment works Verizon?

Verizon is suing to halt the Open Internet Order enacted to protect net neutrality. To oversimplify, it prevents ISP’s from prioritizing their own services or degrading the services of their competitors. Verizon has taken umbrage to this directive, and they think they have a First Amendment argument to striking this type of regulation.

To oversimplify again, they feel the government is interfering with their First Amendment right to interfere with the quality of other companies’ communications and services.

What’s sad is that from a legal perspective they might not actually be wrong here. What powers the FCC might have in regulating the internet still haven’t been expanded or properly defined by Congress, so Verizon has an argument in questioning whether the FCC overstepped its bounds. From Verizon’s brief:

“Broadband networks are the modern day microphone by which their owners engage in First Amendment speech. The FCC thus must identify an actual problem and narrowly tailor its solution to solve that problem. The FCC’s ‘prophylactic’ rules cannot pass that test. The Fifth Amendment likewise protects broadband network owners from government compulsion to turn over their private property for use by others without compensation, especially in light of their multi-billion-dollar investment-backed expectations.”

Today, both Verizon and the FCC will be given 20 minutes apiece to address the appellate court hearing this case. The FCC has also posted a detailed response to all of Verizon’s claims. Lot’s of legal-speak, but it’s an interesting read if you’re into net neutrality.

How the court decides on this case will have far reaching impact on what powers the FCC has to regulate internet communications, and what rights and responsibilities ISP’s have in handling their own and competing internet traffic.

(via Ars)