We are running a guest commentary today. Eric Null is a third-year law student at Cardozo Law School in New York City. He is passionate about corporate and intellectual property law, as well as technology and telecommunications policy. Follow him @ericnull or check out his papers. While researching a paper about municipal broadband networks, I was struck by the tremendous benefits that municipal networks can provide. It can be the first high-speed Internet link for an area without broadband, or it can provide some much-needed competition in areas that currently have access to broadband, but for some reason that existing access is unsatisfactory (e.g. price, service). Municipalities, in theory, can run the network for the benefit of the public rather than with a vicious profit maximization motive. Indeed, municipal networks bring many benefits. But first, a little history. In the United States, cable providers have set up regional monopolies for themselves, and “competitors” such as DSL and satellite are characterized by slower connection speeds and it is arguable that they are actual substitutes to cable access. Certainly within the cable industry, any “competitive” cable company attempting to compete with incumbents is met with high costs of building new infrastructure and lack of customer base. Municipalities can pick up where smaller, private entities cannot succeed. Municipalities have had a long history of investing in critical infrastructure, and they have the mentality for long-term planning that private companies simply cannot enjoy. A large company like Verizon likely has to justify any expansion of its network to its investors and ensure them that the venture will return a profit relatively quickly. Not so with municipalities; a city network allows its citizens to benefit indirectly (and directly) over the long-term. Thus, city governments can be a formidable competitor in the telecom and cable industries. Some states, regrettably, have banned or restricted the practice. In Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League, the Supreme Court interpreted so-called vague language in the Telecom Act of 1996...Read more
Tag: "network neutrality"
Louis CK, the comedian responsible for the FX show "Louie" and for making people laugh at his brutally candid assessment of how much his young daughter's opinion about anything matters, has bypassed the major studios, channels, and cable distribution systems to sell one of his concerts directly to his fans.
For $5, they can easily download it and can then put it on any medium they choose. Some have put it up on pirate sites so others can use it without paying. But more than enough have paid to make it well worth his while -- as explored by the NY Times media critic, David Carr:
While I was talking with him on the phone Thursday night, he checked his Web site and about 175,000 people had bought his special through PayPal. He expected 200,000 total downloads by the weekend, which meant he would have grossed $1 million. After covering costs of about $250,000 for the live production and the Web site, that’s a $750,000 profit. And he owns the rights, and the long tail of buyers, in perpetuity. The transparency of the enterprise, including its cost in relation to how many people bought in, was the subject of media coverage all last week.
“O.K., so NBC is this huge company and they have all these studios and these satellites to beam stuff out,” he said, “but on the Web, both NBC.com and LouisCK.com have the same amount of bandwidth. We are equals and there are things you can do with that. This has been a fun little experiment.”
His "fun little experiment" demonstrates the threat posed by the Internet to the old business models of cable companies and content owners like Viacom and Disney. And this is why Comcast's purchase of NBC is worrisome.
Comcast is still fighting for the authority to prioritize some sites over others - it wants to violate the historic principle of network neutrality that prevents a service provider from interfering with what sites a subscriber visits. If Comcast had its way, it would require a taste of the action from Louis CK or could...Read more
If you want to predict the future, it helps to understand the incentives that guide action. Unsurprisingly, if a corporation has the option of being more profitable by investing less, it will do so. This is the smart conclusion of Bill Snyder at InfoWorld:
To understand their logic, consider this thought experiment: Imagine that you own a freeway -- say, Highway 101 through Silicon Valley -- and you had the power to pluck a car from a traffic jam with a helicopter and deposit it on a clear stretch of the road. Naturally, drivers who could afford the service would be happy to sign up.
"That highway is like the Internet, and the individual cars are the packets of data. The ISP is essentially the gatekeeper that controls the flow of cars on the highway. If the ISP is allowed to snatch any car from the back of a very long line and put it in front of everybody else when the driver of the car pays a priority delivery fee, would the ISP have an incentive to keep the road congested or to expand the road capacity?" they wrote.
The answer is pretty obvious: If you can make more money by keeping your network congested, why would you invest money to make it less crowded?
He was riffing on a paper, "The Debate on Net Neutrality: A Policy Perspective" by H Kenneth Cheng, Subhajyoti Bandyopadhyay, and Hong Guo.
I think many of us view this as a "well, duh" paper, but it is good to see a rigorous academic paper verifying our gut instincts.
There is a very real danger to letting a few massive corporations control access to the Internet, which is one major reason we see so many communities building their own networks. They want to ensure everyone has fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Open Internet.
Update: The Senate voted against turning the Internet over to Comcast, AT&T, and other major carriers. How did your Senators vote?
The US Senate began debating network neutrality yesterday - the historic governing principle of the Internet that ISPs should not be allowed to tell their users where they may or may not go and should not prioritize some connections over others merely because it generates more revenue for the ISP.
As Al Franken has said several times, this is the 1st amendment for the Internet - protecting everyone's speech. It prevents a few massive companies (or even local governments where they offer access to the Internet) from exerting too much influence over what subscribers are able to do on the Internet.
Unfortunately, many Senators are campaigning against this principle, in part because they have been misinformed as to what it means and in part because they are getting a ton of campaign cash from corporations that recognize how much more profitable they would be if they could charge users extra to go to YouTube.
There will be a vote today on a resolution of disapproval for the mild network neutrality rules proposed by the FCC last December (which the FCC Chairman chose to water down in part because he thought it would be less controversial -- FAIL).
We would like to recognize some of those who have stood up to protect the open Internet, starting with Free Press.
The American Sustainable Business Council authored an op-ed:
The truth is that if we want to make sure small businesses can grow with the assistance of broadband, the Internet must remain open. We must, as the FCC says, “ensure the Internet remains an open platform—one characterized by free markets and free speech—that enables consumer choice, end-user control, competition through low barriers to entry and freedom to innovate without permission.”
Senator Kerry made an impassioned plea for not turning the Internet over to Comcast and AT&T:
If I were near Washington, DC, next week, I would be stopping by the New America Foundation for the kickoff of "Black Voices for Internet Freedom" with a panel discussion.
Black and Latino communities are coming together to keep the Internet open and free from discrimination. Because communities of color rely on the Internet and are increasingly embracing wireless technology, we are organizing to protect our online communication rights. These rights are currently at risk: FCC Net Neutrality rules provide few protections for wireless users — and a pending congressional resolution would overturn these rules and hand control of the Internet to corporations. What’s more, the Department of Justice has acknowledged that AT&T’s proposed merger with T-Mobile is a serious threat to wireless competition and would raise prices for consumers.
RSVP here to attend.
You can now read this post at Huffington Post also.
As a condition of its massive merger with NBC, the federal government is requiring Comcast to make affordable Internet connections available to 2.5 million low-income households for the next two years.
In promoting the program, Comcast's Executive VP David Cohen, has made some unexpected admissions:
“Access to the internet is akin to a civil rights issue for the 21st century,” said David Cohen, Comcast’s executive vice president. “It’s that access that enables people in poorer areas to equalize access to a quality education, quality health care and vocational opportunities.”
It was only after the federal government mandated a low-cost option for disadvantaged households that Comcast realized everyone could benefit from access to the Internet. Sadly for Comcast, it has done a poor job of reaching those disadvantaged communities, by its own admission:
"Quite frankly, people in lower-income communities, mostly people of color, have such limited access to broadband than people in wealthier communities."
This is why so many communities are building their own next-generation networks - they know that these networks are essential for economic development and ensuring everyone has "access to a quality education, quality health care and vocational opportunities." And they know that neither Comcast nor the federal government are going to make the necessary investments. They need a solution for the next 20 years, not just the next 2.
Comcast has a de facto monopoly in many communities. Modern cable networks offer much higher capacity connections than...Read more
When Verizon won an auction to use the 700MHz band of the spectrum to deliver mobile broadband, it promised to adhere to a set of openness rules that included allowing customers to use applications and devices of their choosing. But Verizon is now blocking "tethering" apps that allow us to use our cell phones as a modem for our computers.
Wendy Davis at MediaPost offered more context:
Whether it's legal for a wireless carrier to cripple tethering services is unclear. Verizon agreed to follow open Internet principles as a condition of acquiring the spectrum that it uses for 4G wireless phones. One interpretation of that condition is that the company shouldn't attempt to restrict tethering on its 4G network -- though apparently it's still free to do so on the 3G network.
But aside from neutrality issues, Verizon's move clearly seems hard to justify from a pricing standpoint. Given that the company is already going to charge new users based on the amount of data they consume, there's no reason for it to also impose a surcharge for tethering.
Free Press will file a complaint today with the Federal Communications Commission against Verizon for violating the rules that govern the licenses for its LTE network. Licensees of the C Block of the upper 700 MHz block, over which Verizon runs its LTE network, may not “deny, limit, or restrict” the ability of their customers to use the applications or devices of the customers’ choosing.
Recent reports reveal that Verizon has been doing just that by asking Google to disable tethering applications in the Android Market. Tethering applications, which allow users to make their phones into mobile hot-spots, implicate the customers' ability to use both the applications and devices of their choice. Free Press argues that by preventing customers from downloading tethering applications from the Android Market, Verizon is restricting not only the applications available to them, but also limits use of tethered devices such as laptop...
Today, take a moment to learn about a promising documentary and pledge some support to make sure it gets made! A short description:
Imagine if your favorite website was blocked or slowed down because it competed with the corporation that “owned” the Internet bandwidth. How would you react if your posts on Facebook were censored by the government? What would happen if independent blogs and news media became priced out of the Internet because they couldn’t afford the rates charged for a new Internet fast lane? What kind of power should lie within the governments? Should they have the ability to have a virtual Kill Switch?
We find these threats to the free and open Internet to be the single greatest danger to democracy today. #killswitch the film will inform and inspire action in a population largely unaware of these important issues.
This video is no longer available.
Several days at the National Conference for Media Reform in Boston gave me time to reflect on the importance of protecting local authority to build, own, and operate their own networks connecting people and businesses to the Internet. Multiple presentations focused on the importance of and strategies for ensuring access to the Internet is not controlled by a few companies -- and most of these strategies are focused at federal government agencies and Congress.
While we support these efforts, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is not a DC-centric organization. We try to help folks in DC learn about what is happening outside the beltway, but our passion and work focuses directly on helping local communities invest in themselves and preserve their self-determination.
Access to the Internet will likely be the key infrastructure investment that determines how well communities fare in the coming years. Unfortunately, they have very little control over how those investments are made when the networks are owned by private, absentee companies. Efforts like Universal Service Fund reform, fixing the FCC, re-writing the telecom act, and ensuring network neutrality depend on overcoming incredibly powerful (due to their scale and lobbying power) interests in Washington, DC. But local communities have very little power outside their borders... with some in state capitals and practically none in the nation's capital.
Attacks at the state level on the fundamental right of communities to build this essential infrastructure are intended to eliminate their one means of gaining some control over their digital future. Too many states already ban or limit local authority to build these networks -- and with the Time Warner Cable bill to crush community networks in North Carolina picking up steam and South Carolina's similar attack even on broadband stimulus projects, we will see hundreds more communities with no power to ensure their citizens and businesses have access to fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet.
This is deeply concerning. Taking away the one tool...Read more
A CBC show, Spark, offers a content-rich 40 minute interview with Barbara van Schewick discussing how the Internet developed and the role of network neutrality. Her explanation is very accessible, a great opportunity for people who are trying to learn more about the issue but frustrated at technical discussions.
Highly recommended. She explains how the innovate applications and products we use today developed precisely because no one controls the Internet. The danger now is that powerful ISPs may exert more control and retard the innovative nature of the net.