Getting Straight on Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is easy to understand….but it’s complicated.   The Obama Administration understood its importance and made it happen (as has most of Europe and other countries.  However, certain interests (i.e. Internet providers) hated it and they had the money to wage an unending battle against it.   When Trump was elected, they pounced.  Their lobbyists were appointed to the FCC and on December 14, 2017 they took the controversial action of rolling back Obama’s Net Neutrality requirements despite the fact that the public comments on the rollback were fraudulent.

During the public comment period on his proposed rule, a record 22 million comments were received via the FCC’s site. Comments came so fast that the FCC’s server could not handle the traffic. But there was something fishy about many of the comments made in support of the proposed rule. An analysis of those comments by data analytics company Gravwell found that more than 80% of the comments were posted by bots, not human beings. Someone was stuffing the ballot box heavily with fake comments from fake people. Even worse, many comments supported the Net Neutrality rule rollback used the names and contact information of real people who, when contacted, said they never left any such comments.  No surprise, the majority of these people whose identity was stolen favored keeping the rule.  New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman estimates that millions of the comments submitted to the FCC were fakes and demanded the FCC look into the vote fraud. For months, the FCC refused to cooperate in the Attorney General’s investigation.

At this point, it is clear that Trump’s FCC has no interest in the public’s opinion.  Unfortunately, the three Trump-appointed commissioners who pushed for the repeal of these protections are unaccountable to the public.   However, Congress has the power to restore Net Neutrality protections and you elected (or re-elect) Congress.   Oddly, many Republican congressmen just don’t see (or don’t want to see) the importance of Net Neutrality rules.  Perhaps to help educate these Republican lawmakers, Burger King released a useful video explaining Net Neutrality:

One of the reasons that Net Neutrality is such an important issue is rarely, if ever, mentioned in the media.   It’s all about open architecture. The World Wide Web network of the 1990s and early 2000s, created by government funding and academic research, spawned five large American business behemoths:  Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple and Netflix.  These five companies control much of the online infrastructure, from app stores to operating systems to cloud storage to nearly all of the online ad business. A handful of broadband companies — AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon —  control almost all the internet connections to American homes and smartphones.  Together, these 9 companies have effectively stifled innovation.  Every start-up is at the tender mercy of some of the largest corporations on the planet.  Were the four broadband companies able to limit access to start-ups, the innovative promise of the Internet will be snuffed out entirely.   So the stakes are not just large, they are behemoth.

Here is what SDCAN’s wrote in its 2017 comments to the FCC:

We support the existing Net Neutrality rules (Open Internet Order) to connect, organize, and preserve innovation in the U.S. . Losing Net Neutrality protections now would stuff the pockets of Big Cable, put new fees on consumers, and be absolutely devastating for our democracy. Our democracy relies on a free, fair, and Open internet. Every day, journalists, voters, and activists rely on the FCC’s Net Neutrality protections to communicate freely online. Moreover, the open Internet has fostered unprecedented creativity, innovation and access to knowledge and to other kinds of social, economic, cultural, and political opportunities across the globe.

Today, this open Internet is endangered by powerful service providers seeking to become gatekeepers who decide how users can access parts of the Internet. We don’t want to prevent these companies from using reasonable and necessary methods to manage their networks, but these acts cannot be a pretext to eliminate openness nor to police content.

Internet service providers must be compelled to provide intelligible and transparent information with regard to their traffic management practices and usage polices, notably with regard to the coexistence of Internet access service and specialized services. When network capacity is shared between Internet access services and specialized services, the criteria whereby network capacity is shared, shall be clearly stated. The proposed rules repealing Net Neutrality are clearly inadequate and poorly conceived. In general, the draft of the proposal is clearly geared to help broadband providers, asking whether or not it’s cool if ISPs charge web sites for faster access to consumers, and if it’s okay that broadband companies hide certain fees and data caps (as per section 89). There’s little doubt that Big Cable had a significant role in draft the proposed rules. For example, the proposed rules identify ISPs as common carriers and therefore returning them to FTC jurisdiction would be the “best path toward protecting Americans’ online privacy,” because “the nation’s most expert and experienced privacy regulator” would be regulating it again. However, the whole reason that ISPs and Republicans pushed the idea of restoring online privacy oversight to the FTC instead of the FCC is that they know the FTC’s regime is weaker, and that agency can only go after violations after they’ve already happened. The FCC, on the other hand, has the power to issue rules preventing violations before they happen. Another example of Big Cable complicity is the Mr. Pai’s assertion that net neutrality has reduced investment in broadband infrastructure, citing a study by the Free State Foundation that claimed the 2015 net neutrality order has cost $5 billion in broadband investment. The Free State Foundation is a conservative think tank with ties to ALEC, the shady group that pushes conservative policies and even writes model legislation in the states. More to the point, the Free State Foundation has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the two biggest telecom lobbying groups: the Internet and Television Association, formerly the National Cable and Television Association (NCTA), and the Wireless Association, formerly the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA). Between 2010 and 2014, the latest year for which funding figures are available, NCTA gave $375,000 and CTIA gave $280,000, according to tax documents accessed through the Center for Public Integrity’s Nonprofit Network tool. Both are among the strongest opponents of net neutrality; NCTA represents ISPs like Comcast and AT&T, who stand to gain the most from repealing the rules. Yet, an analysis by Free Press reveals that ISPs’ capital expenditure increased more after net neutrality was passed than in the two years before it. Comcast, too, has invested 26 percent more since 2015 than it did between 2013 and 2014. The same arguments about how net neutrality would hurt investment were made in 2015, and they were wrong then, too. Business continues to be extremely good for ISPs; so good, in fact, that AT&T had $2 million in cash lying around to drop on Trump’s inauguration.

The proposed rules totally ignore the fully-documented example of neutrality abuses by Comcast when it was throttling traffic to Netflix in order to extract a payment deal from the streaming video provider, which it eventually agreed to pay. And in 2012, AT&T blocked FaceTime on iPhones, claiming it was using too much bandwidth. In this case, critics argued it was an attempt to block a service that competed with its own voice services. And as the biggest ISPs keep gobbling up content-producers, like AT&T buying DirectTV and then providing free access to itscontent, the risks that ISPs will start prioritizing traffic only increase.

The FCC must reject Mr. Pai’s proposed repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order and take the following actions:
a) regularly monitor and report on Internet traffic management practices and usage polices, in order to ensure Network Neutrality, evaluate the potential impact of the aforementioned practices and policies on fundamental rights, ensure the provision of a sufficient quality of service and the allocation of a satisfactory level of network capacity to the Internet. Reporting should be done in an open and transparent fashion and reports shall be made freely available to the public;

b) put in place appropriate, clear, open and efficient procedures aimed at addressing Network Neutrality complaints. To this end, all Internet users shall be entitled to make use of such complaint procedures in front of the relevant authority;

c) respond to the complaints within a reasonable time and be able to use necessary measures in order to sanction the breach of the Network Neutrality principle.

d) preserve and expand existing Net Neutrality rules.
Thank you for considering these……and others’…..comments on the ill-conceived repeal of the existing rules.

Michael Shames, on behalf of San Diego Consumers’ Action Network.

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