Tag: "network neutrality"

Posted August 9, 2010 by christopher

A few thoughts on the Google-Verizon talks and behind closed doors FCC stakeholder meetings with industry...

First, neither the FCC nor Google is likely to defend the interests of the vast majority of us and the communities in which we live. Companies like Verizon don't dump millions in lobbyists and lawyers on a lark - they do it because that level of spending gets them access and action. Google, its don't-be-evil mantra notwithstanding, remains a company that looks out for its interests first.

And Google's interests may well be ensuring that its content is always in the "fast lane" despite their historic approach of pushing for an open internet where no business can simply pay to get get a higher level of service from an ISP.

This is not an "abandon all hope" post about network neutrality. The FCC has substantially changed course on this issue many times (largely due to massive public pressure - thank you to Free Press for organizing so many folks), so I still have hopes that it will enact regulations to preserve the open internet.

However, these regulations are certainly not the best approach. It is a messy approach to solving a problem that fundamentally comes down to the fact that network owners operate essential infrastructure in the private interest rather than the public interest.

We don't have to worry that national bakeries are going to be prioritized over local bakeries in access to the roads they need to make their deliveries. UPS, FedEx, and the US Post Office do not have to engage in separate agreements in every community over who gets to use the roads and what speeds they can travel on them. When it comes to roads, the rules apply to all like vehicles equally (which is to say that all big trucks are treated like big trucks and passenger cars are treated like passenger cars).

If I lived in Chattanooga, Monticello, Lafayette, Brigham City, Bristol (TN or VA), Wilson, perhaps soon Opelika, or dozens of other communities with publicly owned broadband networks, I would be watching this ongoing network neutrality fight with a rather bemused expression because my network is democratically accountable to the community and that offers far greater accountability than anything that will...

Read more
Posted June 21, 2010 by christopher

Though we certainly support the FCC's reclassification of broadband to ensure companies like Comcast do not interfere with the open Internet, we focus on policy at the community level. We fully support the efforts of organizations and people in DC to work at the federal level.

But for those who are utterly baffled at the questions being raised the the last 15 years of Internet policy, I strongly recommend a recent op-ed by Wally Bowen: "FCC needs to rethink broadband regulation."

The stakes are high. The Internet's explosive growth – and the spectacular innovation it spawned – were enabled by common-carrier rules that still govern the nation's dial-up telephone networks.

Before 2002, online users were at the center of the Internet and World Wide Web, free to choose among competing ISPs, and free to roam and innovate. With the removal of common-carrier rules, the cable and telephone companies occupied the center of a broadband-driven Web, free to pick winners and losers among innovators (e.g. AT&T's exclusive iPhone deal with Apple) – and free to dictate when and where broadband access will be deployed.

In short, the definitive battle for the future of the Internet is underway.

Posted April 29, 2010 by christopher

I was briefly checking out the Open Internet Workshop when I got into a short tweet-argument with someone I did not know. Bear with me as I recount the discussion then explain why I think it worth delving into for a post. This person caught my attention by tweeting, "Which means the Net is already open, right?"

I responded, "Yes Internet is open. Trying to keep it that way. Idea that net neutrality is 'new' is absurd."

Shortly thereafter, I got a response that fits a standard script: "Then how about proving actual harm first? Burden of proof to hand Net to govt is on you guys."

I responded, "Comcast, RCN, Cox block applications ... why must we wait for you to break the Net further to fix it?"

The final response was that the market forces will solve the problem and my "examples are outdated."

I later discovered that I was wasting time responding to someone from an astroturf think tank. Odds are that this person was simultaneously tweeting that cigarette smoking is not correlated with cancer and that burning coal actually cleans the air.

But this is a common argument from those who want to allow companies like Comcast and AT&T to tell users what sites they can visit and what applications they can use. Some "free market" advocate (who is actually defending firms with serious market power, the antithesis of a free market) says that no private network owner would violate network neutrality. Then, when presented with companies that have violated network neutrality, the response is invariably that those are "old" examples" or somehow not relevant.

To sum up:

Person A: No company would violate network neutrality.

Person B: What about Comcast, Cox, RCN, and the famous Madison River Communication?

Person A: Those don't count.

Aside from the absurdity, the larger problem is that we do not always know when companies are violating network neutrality. Comcast was violating network neutrality for at least a year before tech journalists successfully outed the practice. Over the course of that year, many subscribers called Comcast and asked why they were having problems with certain applications. Comcast lied to them and said the company was not interfering with them. When finally backed into a corner with incontrovertible evidence, it...

Read more
Posted April 13, 2010 by christopher

A quick reaction to the court decision that the FCC cannot currently prevent Comcast from telling subscribers where they can and cannot go on the Internet: This is what happens when private companies own infrastructure.

Comcast owns the pipes so it makes the rules. The FCC, authorized to regulate "all interstate and foreign communication by wire or radio" by Congress, most assuredly is supposed to have the authority to ensure Internet Service Providers cannot arbitrarily block some websites to subscribers. Whether it really has the power or not is determined by courts - and the courts are massively swayed by the arguments of Comcast, related trade associations, and powerful organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce. So long as Comcast and other massive corporations own the infrastructure, they will make the rules. We can attempt to fiddle at the edges by responding via the FCC, or we can build public infrastructure (over which they can provide services without making the rules) and avoid this entire problem.

On this particular issue, though, I found the following bits helpful in understanding the decision and how it changes federal policy.

Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post posted a video interview with Ben Scott of Free Press that is well worth watching to understand what is at stake and what is not. For instance, the FCC is not proposing to regulate the Internet so much as the wires and transmissions that allow the Internet to run. As long as Comcast can decide what bits it wants to transport (as in, it will transport bits from CNN but not Fox News, for instance), the open Internet is at risk. Ben Scott also appeared on the excellent Diane Rehm show that asked Who Controls the Internet?

If you really want to get into the nuts and bolts of what the Court said, you never go wrong by starting with an analysis by Harold Feld, who notes (with more authority than I when yelling back at my radio at misinformed tech reporters) that lots of folks are talking about this decision (including a certain FCC Commissioner) without understanding what the ruling actually said.

The FCC does not require an additional grant of power from Congress to enforce network neutrality, as...

Read more
Posted January 11, 2010 by christopher

The FCC asked for comments on its plans to make rules to protect the open Internet [pdf] from companies that may exert more control over the sites you want to visit in order to boost their profits.

Free Press made the video below to encourage people to comment before the deadline. Though we believe Network Neutrality provisions would be unnecessary with policies that encouraged public ownership and open access, the reality of networks today dictates rules that do not allow Comcast or AT&T to turn the Internet into the wasteland of FM radio today.

SavetheInternet.com makes it easy to comment if you don't have a lot of experience with FCC notices.

Photo used under Creative Commons license from AdamWillis.

Posted October 16, 2009 by christopher

Following up on my recent piece about Comcast and the public interest, I wanted to note some good arguments for network neutrality. Teresa Martin penned a good article for capecodtoday.com that noted:

That notion of the public good is a quaint concept, one that has been bludgeoned out of favor over the past 30 years. But maybe it is time to re-think that a little and to take the concept and re-examine it in the face of the 21st century. Is the Internet part of the larger public good? If so, net neutrality would seem to flow naturally. Does this impede an operator’s ability to make money? Not at all. But it does prevent the asset from flowing to the highest bidder first. It means that information isn’t given priority based on the pocket book of its sender. It means that the recording industry and the movie industry, two strong opponents of net neutrality, can’t use their profits to buy preferred space in the network and block competition.

Photo used under Creative Commons license from AdamWillis.

Posted October 14, 2009 by christopher

While I try to keep postings on this site to the subject of publicly owned networks, I think it important to discuss the ways in which some major carriers routinely flout the public interest. Thus, a little history on how Comcast has acted against the public interest.

Most of the readers of this blog are probably aware that Comcast has been dinged by the FCC following its practice of interfering with subscribers legal content (and undoubtedly illegal content as well) by blocking and disrupting the BitTorrent traffic. BitTorrent is frequently used to transfer large media files because it efficiently breaks large files into many little pieces, allowing the user to download from a variety of sources concurrently - the file is then reassembled.

When Comcast detected BitTorrent connections, it would effectively hang up on them, regardless of the congestion level on the network at the time. The FCC (the Bush Administration's FCC) said it couldn't do that and Comcast is currently in the courts trying to tell the FCC that it can't tell Comcast what it can't do on its network.

Prior to a journalistic investigation that proved Comcast was doing this, net geeks had repeated asked Comcast if it were blocking the BitTorrent protocol. Comcast never admitted to anything, often claiming it did not "block" anything... as time would go on, Comcast would refuse to admit it was blocking anything - as if permanently delaying traffic was anything other than a blockage. "I'm not blocking you, try back in 20 million years."

Around this time, Comcast quietly changed its policy regarding the maximum amount of bandwidth subscribers could consume in a month. At the time, I thought it was a result of the FCC cracking down on the arbitrary policies frequently used by cable companies, but it turns out we can thank the State of Florida for forcing Comcast to enact a transparent cap on monthly usage.

Prior to the official cap, there was an unofficial cap. Every month, some number of people would be notified they were kicked off Comcast's service for using too much bandwidth - but no one knew how much was too much and, perhaps more importantly, how to keep track of how much bandwidth they were using. Discussions on geek-hangout Slashdot suggested a monthly cap of between 100 Gigabytes and 300 Gigabytes depending on the neighborhood. There was no limit documented anywhere and Comcast representatives refused to acknowledge any hard cap.

... Read more
Posted September 23, 2009 by christopher

The Chair of the Federal Communications Commission has taken a stand for network neutrality - the founding principle of openness of the Internet. In short, network neutrality means the entity providing you access to the Internet cannot interfere with the sites you choose to visit - it cannot speed them up or slow them down in order to increase their profits. See video at the bottom of this post for a longer explanation.

FCC Chair Julius Genachowski recently spoke at the Brookings Institution [pdf] on the importance of an open Internet. He started by noting many of the ways we depend on services delivered over the Internet:

Even now, the Internet is beginning to transform health care, education, and energy usage for the better. Health-related applications, distributed over a widely connected Internet, can help bring down health care costs and improve medical service. Four out of five Americans who are online have accessed medical information over the Internet, and most say this information affected their decision-making. Nearly four million college students took at least one online course in 2007, and the Internet can potentially connect kids anywhere to the best information and teachers everywhere. And the Internet is helping enable smart grid technologies, which promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by hundreds of millions of metric tons.

However, because most Americans get access to the Internet from large, absentee-owned profit-maximizing companies who are often de facto monopolies, we have to beware the gulf between community interests and the narrow interests of these companies.

A second reason [for network neutrality rules] involves the economic incentives of broadband providers. The great majority of companies that operate our nation’s broadband pipes rely upon revenue from selling phone service, cable TV subscriptions, or both. These services increasingly compete with voice and video products provided over the Internet. The net result is that broadband providers’ rational bottom-line interests may diverge from the broad interests of consumers in competition and choice.

For this reason and others, the Chair suggested adding two new "freedoms" to the four Internet freedoms [pdf]...

Read more
Posted August 4, 2009 by christopher

Representatives Markey and Eshoo have introduced a House bill to preserve network neutrality on the Internet - a means to ensure users are able to choose what sites they visit rather than allowing gatekeepers like AT&T or Comcast to influence the decisions by speeding up or slowing down some sites.

Imagine if AT&T subscribers could access Google twice as fast as Yahoo (or another start up search engine) because Google cut deals with AT&T for preferential treatment. The Internet as we know it would change substantially and innovation would slow because those who could afford to cut deals with major service providers would attract most viewers.

It is important to note that public ownership largely solves the problems that make this bill necessary. Companies that maximize profits above all else are willing to degrade the Internet in order to pad profits whereas networks that put the good of the community above profits tend not to interfere with user freedom. However, we find that for an issue this important, having it reinforced both federally and locally is a good idea.

The bill currently has no additional listed cosponsors. To my knowledge, bills like this tend to do well in the House but die in the Senate. Video from Save The Internet:

I have included the text of the bill below for convenience, but did not include the formatting. You can see it nicely formatted via THOMAS or check out the Free Press' Seven Reasons Why We Need Net Neutrality Now.

A BILL

To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to establish a national broadband policy, safeguard consumer rights, spur investment and innovation, and for related purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION...

Read more
Posted July 27, 2009 by christopher

After winning the election, the Obama Administration announced that broadband networks would be a priority. True to its word, the stimulus package included $7.2 billion to expand networks throughout the United States. A key question was how that money would be spent: Would the public interest prevail, or would we continue having a handful of private companies maximizing profits at the expense of communities?

Creating the Broadband Stimulus Language

The debate began in Congress as the House and Senate drafted broadband plans as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

The House language on eligibility for stimulus grants made little distinction between global, private entities and local public or non-profit entities.

the term `eligible entity' means--

(A) a provider of wireless voice service, advanced wireless broadband service, basic broadband service, or advanced broadband service, including a satellite carrier that provides any such service;
(B) a State or unit of local government, or agency or instrumentality thereof, that is or intends to be a provider of any such service; and
(C) any other entity, including construction companies, tower companies, backhaul companies, or other service providers, that the NTIA authorizes by rule to participate in the programs under this section, if such other entity is required to provide access to the supported infrastructure on a neutral, reasonable basis to maximize use;

The Senate language clearly preferred non-profit or public ownership.

To be eligible for a grant under the program an applicant shall—

(A) be a State or political subdivision thereof, a nonprofit foundation, corporation, institution or association, Indian tribe, Native Hawaiian organization, or other non-governmental entity in partnership with a State or political subdivision thereof, Indian tribe, or Native Hawaiian organization if the Assistant Secretary determines the partnership consistent with the purposes this section

The final language, adopted by the Conference Committee and passed by both houses in February was a compromise. It favored a public or non-profit corporation but allowed a private company to be eligible only if the Assistant Secretary of the Department of Commerce found that to be in the public interest. In the final law an eligible...

Read more

Pages

Subscribe to network neutrality