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The Other Half of Network Neutrality - Content Neutrality

We are pleased to bring you a guest post from Levi C. Maaia, president of Full Channel Labs and a graduate research fellow at the Center for Education Research on Literacies, Learning & Inquiry in Networking Communities (LINC) at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Levi is a strong advocate for local, family owned businesses and an open Internet without government or corporate gatekeepers.

The Other Half of Net Neutrality Regulation

The Internet was originally founded on principles of public service and education. In the past two decades, tremendous commercial potential has also been realized and the Internet is now the engine behind our new global economy. This potential, however, is predicated on the network’s original open and neutral methods of communication. 

Properly implemented net neutrality regulation has the potential to maintain a level online playing field for all 21st century industries, which rely on the Internet for all types of electronic communications and financial transactions. However, Chairman Wheeler's recent plan to enforce net neutrality through the invocation Title II authority ignores practices by some content providers that threaten the economic viability and expansion of affordable high-speed and gigabit access. A notable example of this practice is how online content is delivered under the ESPN3 brand.  

ESPN3 is an online-only sports television network owned by The Walt Disney Company and the Hearst Corporation. Unlike with other online video services such as Netflix and Amazon Instant Video – where consumers choose to pay for content and access it directly – ESPN3 streaming content is available only to customers of ISPs that pay per-subscriber fees to ESPN for each of their Internet customers. If an ISP refuses to pay these fees for some or all of its user base, all of its customers are blocked from accessing ESPN3’s online content. Through the imposition of this legacy cable TV licensing approach ESPN3 is attempting to force ISPs into negotiating content deals in the same way that cable TV providers must do for broadcast retransmission consent and cable network licensing fees.  

As cord-cutters drop their cable and satellite subscriptions in favor of online streaming, TV networks are scrambling to compensate for this lost revenue.  ESPN3 is doing so by imposing a cable TV-like payment structure on Internet delivery using a model that congress and consumers have decried for decades as inflexible and expensive. These additional costs are already being factored into Internet service pricing, as ESPN3 reaches deals with the Internet providers of tens of millions of customers. If ESPN continues to be successful with this model, we can expect that other content providers will follow suit and it may not be just the cable TV networks that adopt this method. ISPs might be compelled to negotiate per-subscriber fees for access to content across the Web.

The FCC’s Network Neutrality approach means that ISPs cannot demand payment from content owners to reach customers. However, it is silent on whether content owners can demand the ISP pay a fee for every subscriber on its system, regardless of how many subscribers actually desire the content in question.

Without content neutrality protection as part of the FCC’s regulatory approach, we may see the current a-la-carte, merit-based model of the Internet disappear in favor of a system where payment demands for content are forced on consumers by media giants. This would likely result in skyrocketing prices for Internet access akin to that of cable TV which has risen in cost more than four times the rate of inflation over the past 15 years! This could have a crippling effect on all industry, especially small businesses and startups. Practices like those by ESPN3 pose just as great a threat to broadband and fiber deployment, affordability and access as a lack of other aspects of net neutrality regulation do. 

Indeed, content neutrality is the other half of the net neutrality issue and it must be addressed. And much like the fundamental issue behind network neutrality, a few incredibly large firms with tremendous market power are the primary threat.

In 2004, Levi Maaia joined Full Channel, a family-owned broadband provider in Bristol County, R.I. Under his leadership, Full Channel successfully turned around a declining subscriber base while making its first forays into digital and high-definition television, IP telephony and renewable energy solutions.  

In 2008, he developed and launched Full Channel’s renewable wind energy initiative GreenLink through a partnership forged with sustainable energy provider People’s Power & Light. As a result, cable industry trade publication CableFAX honored Full Channel with its 2009 Top Ops Community Service Award.  In 2012, Levi formed Full Channel Labs, an online innovation and technology partner, which develops and supports advances in networking and digital technologies.

Reaction to the FCC Decisions, Dissent, and Next Steps - Community Broadband Bits Episode 141

After the FCC decisions to remove barriers to community networks and to reclassify Internet access as a Title II service to enforce network neutrality rules, Lisa and I spend some time discussing the decision and reactions to it.

We also discuss my presentation at Freedom to Connect, where I offer some thoughts on what communities can do in the long term to ensure we end scarcity and the corporate monopoly model of Internet access.

Though we will continue to fight against barriers to local choice and work to ensure every community has the authority to choose the model that best fits it, we plan to spend more time examining how Internet access can be built as infrastructure rather than as for a specific service from a single provider.

Read the transcript from this show here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 16 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

March 13th Webinar on Historic FCC Decision: Net Neutrality and Muni Broadband

In light of the recent FCC decision to restore some local telecommunications authority in Tennessee and North Carolina, it is time to examine the details. Join leading telecom attorneys Jim Baller and Marty Stern as they host a live BroadbandUS.TV webcast on March 13th to discuss Title II, network neutrality, and new possibilities for munis.

The event begins at 1 p.m. ET and is titled FCC Takes Charge - Net Neutrality and Muni Broadband: New Title II Rules for Broadband Access and Preempting State Limits on Municipal Networks. Registration is available at the BroadbandUS.TV website. More info about the event:

In this special edition of Broadband US TV we examine two historic decisions from the FCC: The decision to classify broadband access as a Title II service, and the preemption of state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that placed limits on municipal broadband networks.  We’ll dive into these issues with two panels of prominent players and experts on both sides of these white hot issues.  Hear details about the rulings, predictions on implementation and court challenges, and what these rulings are likely to portend for broadband in America over the next year and beyond.  On the muni broadband panel, our own Jim Baller, lead counsel to Chattanooga and Wilson before the FCC, will go from host to panelist and mix it up with our other guests.  We’ll be sure not to cut him any slack.

Guests will be:

Title II and Broadband  -- Pipedream or New Reality                                     

  • Craig Aaron, President, Free Press 
  • Chris Lewis, VP, Government Affairs, Public Knowledge
  • Sarah Morris, Senior Policy Counsel, New America Foundation, Open Technology Initiative 
  • Hank Hultquist, VP, Federal Regulatory, AT&T
  • Barbara Esbin, Outside Counsel, American Cable Association
  • Jonathan Banks, Senior VP, Law and Policy, US Telecom Association 

 

Muni Broadband -- Striking Down State Limits 

  • Jim Baller, Senior Principal, Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide 
  • Joanne Hovis, CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice 
  • Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Network Initiative, ILSR
  • Scott Cleland, President, Precursor Group 
  • Jeff Lanning, VP, Federal Regulatory Affairs, CenturyLink
  • Lawrence Spiwak, President, Phoenix Center

Participants will have the opportunity to send in their questions during panel discussion, so have your questions ready!

Benton Foundation Article Dives Into Upcoming FCC Decision and Section 706

Kevin Taglang, recently published an excellent explanatory post for the Benton Foundation entitled What Section 706 Means for Net Neutrality, Municipal Networks, and Universal Broadband. He provides just the right amount of detail to get one up top speed on the upcoming decision and why it promises to be so influential. Additionally, he summarizes many federal programs relating to Internet access.

We already know that February 26th will be an historic day in telecommunications. On that day, the FCC's decision on new network neutrality rules and municipal broadband networks has the potential to literally change millions of lives. The decision will impact education, economic development, jobs, healthcare, communications, utilities - you name it. 

Taglang fittingly describes the series of findings from the FCC as a three act play. Read the text of the play, anticipate the conflict, see how the characters clash, and you will be the dramaturge. 

Act I: The FCC Considers U.S. Broadband and Finds It Lacking:

In addition to other factors, the FCC looked at the way we defined broadband (4 Mbps/1 Mbps), what capacity is needed to align with the way households use broadband (as in multiple devices simultaneously), and how ISPs market their services (25 Mbps as a minimum downstream acceptable). 

Accessibility rates showed divergent results based on urban and rural geography. The agency reassessed what is needed in schools for students and staff. The result was a decision to redefine broadband as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps and, once the agency determined that, the landscape changed dramatically. In January, the FCC adopted the Broadband Progress Report for 2015 [PDF], which asked what is advanced telecommunications capability now and are all Americans able to access that capacity?

From the arcticle:

Given these gaps in availability, the FCC concluded that advanced telecommunications capability is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. And, in light of this finding, the FCC must “take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

 

Act II: Major Federal Efforts to Expand the Reach of Broadband

Taglang documents the many programs, funds, orders, and initiatives at the federal level aimed at promoting broadband. The White House, the FCC, and the Departments of Agriculture and Commerce have been particularly active. Nevertheless, broadband in the USA is not moving fast enough.

 

Act III: Notice of Inquiry on Immediate Action to Accelerate Broadband Deployment

In addition to the progress Report, the FCC established a Notice of Inquiry to find ways to remove the barriers to infrastructure investment and promote competition. Taglang writes:

The FCC’s NOI asks for comment on additional actions it can take to increase competition, remove barriers to market entry or stimulate the offering of innovative services. For example, are there efforts in addition to those we have taken that would encourage providers to enter the market or expand their reach to unserved or underserved areas, including Tribal lands?

The FCC also seeks comment on how to address the disparity in broadband availability between Americans living in urban areas with those living in rural areas and Tribal lands. This gap, the FCC notes, is, by itself, the basis for a determination that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.

Finally, the FCC asks if there are additional actions it could take to reduce the number of schools that lack high-capacity broadband.

With these three major acts in mind, the expected result will be a timely implementation of ubiquitous broadband in the U.S., writes Taglang. He is sensible, however:

There are no silver bullets or single efforts that can get us there on their own. It will take pragmatic policy choices and sustained policy attention in a variety of areas -- from new policies around lowering barriers to pole attachments, deployment of fiber, improved access to programming, access to spectrum, a vigorous competition policy agenda, and policies that continue to enable innovation in the content and services that broadband can deliver and that can transform the way we work, the way we live, and the way we learn. Ultimately, that is the challenge that is before us. And the reason that Congress gave us Section 706 in the first place.

Join Christopher on Reddit: Ask Him Anything Feb. 26th, 6 - 7 p.m. EST

This event was cancelled when Reddit chose not to list it on the calendar. We will be happy to do an AMA if there is sufficient interest in the future.

On February 26th, from 6 - 7 p.m. EST, join Chris on Reddit for an Ask Me Anything forum. We encourage you to chat in with your questions. He is ready to answer all your inquiries about municipal networks, community broadband, and the FCC action expected that day.

As our readers know, the FCC anticipates rendering a vote on Docket 14-28, Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. First on the agenda, however, will be the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions. If the Commission decides in favor of allowing these cities to expand despite Tennessee and North Carolina barriers, as Chairman Tom Wheeler has advocated, state barriers prohibiting or discouraging local telecommunications authority may be on the way out.

Chris will have front row seat at the FCC proceedings, so get your questions ready! We will update this post with the link to our AMA when it is ready. In the meantime, start thinking up questions!

Christopher Mitchell on KSTX, Texas Public Radio

Chris Mitchell spoke on TPR’s “The Source” about FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s support of Title II reclassification and future prospects for networks like The San Antonio Area Broadband Network (SAABN). 

Guests discussed how TV and Cable Lobbyists were able to create barriers to networks, whether the FCC has the power to preempt rules that limit competition, and why telecom giants like Comcast should not be able to make certain deals or degrade Internet speeds based on whether content providers pay extra money.

San Antonio was one of the founding members of Next Century Cities and has been working to link major institutions and the city’s medical center through CPS Energy’s existing fiber.

Listen to the interview:

Christopher Mitchell discusses Net Neutrality on Minnesota Public Radio’s “Daily Circuit.”

Last fall, MPR's "Daily Circuit" interviewed Chris regarding President Obama’s net neutrality plan and how it could shape the future of the Internet.

Chris discussed why Obama’s request that Internet service be reclassified under Title II is necessary, but not sufficient to solve current market problems. Chris explained that right now consumers have very few choices, and big telecom is using its monopoly power to disadvantage competitors. 

Title II requires telecommunications companies to charge reasonable rates to everyone, rather than implementing “fast lanes” for certain companies.

Chris was joined by Chester Wisniewski, senior security advisor at Sophos. The interview was hosted by MPR’s Tom Crann.

Listen to the interview.

Answering Questions About Title II and Munis - Community Broadband Bits Episode 138

As we near the FCC open meeting at the end of next week, when it will decide on both the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions regarding their wish to expand as well as a proposal to reclassify Internet access a Title II service in order to ensure it can maintain the same open Internet we have long loved. We have mostly focused on the muni petitions, but after hearing some concerns from some munis regarding Title II, we realized we have to delve into the Title II reclassification more deeply.

Enter Chris Lewis, VP of Government of Affairs for Public Knowledge. I've always enjoyed talking with Chris on various issues around telecom policy and we asked him to come on and answer some of the questions we have heard.

We talk about the prospects of rate regulation, unbundling, transparency requirements, and the process for filing complaints until Title II. Overall, our conclusion is that the rules as we understand them, are quite reasonable and should not pose a problem to munis that are already committed to providing a high quality service.

You can read a Fact Sheet about the proposed rules here.

Read the transcript from this episode here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

This show is 22 minutes long and can be played below on this page or via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed.

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to Persson for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Blues walk."

Network Neutrality - Warnings From Radio Regulation

Many of us in the public interest telecommunications sphere are excited that the FCC appears poised to reclassify Internet access, which seems a necessary first step of protecting the open Internet.

Though we often focus on the false claims of the self-interested cable and telephone lobbyists when criticizing those who oppose FCC action on this, a recent Smithsonian Magazine article is a reminder that we must be vigilant with how the FCC uses this power. Clive Thompson penned "Air Waves" for the October, 2014, issue. It offers some context from the history of radio to discuss regulation of communication technologies.

When groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other pro-open Internet groups question an enhanced FCC role in protecting the open Internet, they are often motivated by the somewhat terrible record of the FCC and its precursor in balancing the speech rights of everyone vs a motivated and self-interested for-profit industry.

In 1927 Congress created the Federal Radio Commission, endowed with the power to assign wavelengths. It began aggressively doing so, booting hundreds of small stations off the air, to produce “clear channels” for the big firms—wide-open zones where they could broadcast with no interference.

Amateur time was over, as the FRC explicitly warned in a memo: “There is not room in the broadcast band for every school of thought, religious, political, social, and economic, each to have its separate broadcasting station, its mouthpiece in the ether.”

Using modern technology, there can be no doubt there is room in the broadcast for every school of thought - but we certainly have to be vigilant to ensure no current or future government agency turns the Internet into the morass of broadcast radio today. This goes both for the ways over-commercialization and consolidation has killed interesting content and the ways the FCC strictly polices some forms of offensive content (the famous seven dirty words) while ignoring blatantly racist or homophobic content. My view: the FCC should stay far from content and let households do their own filtering as necessary.

Ting to Offer Fiber Internet Service in Charlottesville

Comcast may be an ISP Goliath, but a new David will soon move to Charlottesville. Tucows Inc., recently announced that it plans to begin serving as an ISP in the area and will eventually expand to other markets.

In a Motherboard article, CEO Elliot Noss said:

"At the simplest level, we'll be offering a lot more product for the same price, and a much better customer experience. We want to become like a mini Google fiber."

The company began in the 1990s and is known for registering and selling premium domain names and hosting corporate emails accounts. Two years ago they ventured into wireless cell service and were immediately praised for their top notch customer service and no-frills billing. Tucows promises to fill the customer service gap left by incumbent Comcast, one of the most hated companies in America.

Tucows will operate its Internet service under its cellular brand, Ting. It will take over existing fiber infrastructure owned by Blue Ridge InternetWorks and will begin serving customers as early as the first quarter of 2015. Ting hopes to be able to charge less than $100 per month for gigabit fiber service. Comcast charges $90 per month for 50 Mbps and CenturyLink charges $40 per month for 10 Mbps in Charlottesville.

As far as "fast lanes" go? From the Motherboard article:

Noss said that the company is dedicated to net neutrality as a "sensible business practice" and said "it's our responsibility to make sure content like Netflix is fast on our network. We're not looking for content providers to pay us in a double-sided fashion."

Ting reaffirms that philosophy on the Ting Blog:

Tucows believes very strongly in the open Internet. Up until now, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do but educate, agitate and contribute. Getting into fixed access, owning our own pipe, is an opportunity for us to practice what we preach when it comes to the open Internet and net neutrality.

Noss told Motherboard the company is looking beyond Charlottesville and taking input from an interested public at their website. They will first look at partnering, buying infrastructure, and leasing fiber from local governments. From the article:

"The one thing we won't do is spend a lot of time convincing people of the need for a fiber network,” he said. “We think that's a waste of time, and I think people already see the value.”