Tag: "courts"

Posted February 4, 2014 by Christopher Mitchell

When the DC Circuit Court handed down a decision ruling against the FCC's Open Internet (network neutrality) rules, it also clarified that the FCC has the power to overrule state laws that limit local authority to build community networks. Harold Feld, Senior Vice President for Public Knowledge, joins us for Community Broadband Bits Episode #84 to explain the decision.

Harold exlains what Section 706 authority is and how all the DC Circuit judges on the case felt that the FCC, at a minimum, has the authority to strike down laws that delay or prohibit the expansion of broadband infrastrcturue.

We then discuss how the FCC can go about striking down such laws to reestablish local authority - a community in a state like North Carolina could file a petition with the FCC for action or the FCC could decide to take action itself. Either way, it will have to build a record that laws revoking local authority to build networks are harmful to expanding this essential infrastructure.

Finally, some of this power filters down to state public utility commissions, but just how much is unclear at present.

Read the transcript from our discussion here.

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 15 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.

Find more episodes in our podcast index.

Thanks to Fit and the Conniptions for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

Posted January 15, 2014 by Christopher Mitchell

As we noted yesterday, the DC Circuit of Appeals has decided that the FCC does not have authority to implement its Open Internet (network neutrality) rules as proposed several years ago.

But the court nonetheless found that the FCC does have some authority to regulate in the public interest, particularly when it comes to something we have long highlighted: state barriers to community owned networks. For example, see North Carolina and recent efforts in Georgia.

States have been lobbied heavily by powerful cable and telephone companies to create barriers that discourage community owned networks. Nineteen states have such barriers (see our map with the states shown in red), largely because communities have nowhere near the lobbying power of massive cable and telephone companies, not because the arguments against municipal networks are compelling.

For those who remember a certain Supreme Court decision called Nixon v Missouri, the Court has once weighed in the matter of state barriers to community networks. In the '96 Telecom Act, Section 253 declares "No State or local statute or regulation, or other State or local legal requirement, may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service."

However, the Supreme Court decided in 2004 that Congress was insufficiently clear in its intent to preempt state authority - that "any" did not mean "any" but rather meant something else. In making this decision, it ignored a legislative history with plenty of evidence (see Trent Lott for instance) that suggested Congress meant "any" to mean "any."

ANYway, we lost that one. States were found to have the right to limit the authority of communities to build their own networks. But we have long felt that a different grant of authority gave the FCC the power to overrule state limits of local authority to build networks, Section 706.

...

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Posted January 14, 2014 by Christopher Mitchell

In a decision announced a few hours ago, the DC Circuit of Appeals has largely ruled against the Open Internet, or network neutrality. These are rules established by the Federal Communications Commission to prevent massive ISPs like Comcast and AT&T from degrading or blocking access to certain sites on the Internet. Decision here [pdf].

The goal is to prevent these big firms from being able to discriminate - to pick winners and losers. For instance, Comcast could charge subscribers an extra $10 per month to access Netflix while not charging to visit similar sites that it owns. The rules were intended to prevent that.

However, the FCC has a history of decisions that have benefited big telecom corporations more than citizens and local businesses. Those decisions limited how it can protect the public interest on matters of Internet access.

This court decision decided that the way the FCC was attempting to enforce network neutrality was not allowed because of how it has decided to (de)regulate the Internet generally. In essence, the FCC said that it didn't want to regulate the Internet except for the ways it wanted to regulate the Internet. And the Court said, somewhat predictably, that approach was too arbitrary. Moving forward, the FCC has the power to enforce this regulation, but it will have to change the way the Internet is "classified," in FCC lingo - which means changing those historic decisions that benefited the big corporations.

Groups like Free Press are pushing to make this change because it will ensure the FCC has the authority it needs to ensure everyone has access to the open Internet.

The lesson for us is that communities cannot trust Washington, DC, to ensure that residents and local businesses have universal, fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet. Communities should be investing in themselves to build networks that are accountable to the public and will not engage in anti-consumer practices merely to maximize their profits. Such behavior is inappropriate on matters of essential infrastructure.

Even if the FCC now gets this right and protects the public interest, that may last only as long as this FCC is in power. Communities that trust the FCC to protect them in this...

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Posted April 22, 2011 by Christopher Mitchell

Five years ago, Michigan decided to deregulate cable companies, preempting local authority to negotiate with cable companies in favor of a more relaxed statewide franchise. Many states have gone down this path in hopes of spurring competition and lowering the prices for service. All have seen very minimal gains (mostly from AT&T U-Verse and Verizon FiOS, deployments that have gone forward as well in states that did not preempt local authority). None have seen real decreases in prices.

Michigan also created greater hurdles for the public sector (click on Michigan on our Community Broadband Preemption Map for an explanation of the legislation). In short, Michigan made a big bet that the private sector would build the networks they need to remain competitive. The results are in.

"No matter how you look at it, 70 percent of Michigan's communities still have only one cable provider four years after deregulation," said Deborah Guthrie, President of MI-NATOA, in a statement. "Even in the places where two providers offer service, if serious competition existed, prices wouldn't run up several times faster than inflation and customer service wouldn't be so poor."

Michigan's National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Administrators joined with the Michigan Alliance for Community Media (neither of which seems to have much a web presence) to note that Comcast's prices for lifeline basic have gone up 18% with other services increasing 3x the rate of inflation. Most communities remain stuck with Comcast or Charter solely, two of the most hated corporations in America.

As we educate legislators around the country, we need to keep the lessons from Michigan in mind. Legislators often know very little about telecom issues and are bombarded by lobbyist talking points - but examples like Michigan clearly show what happen when the telco and cableco lobbyists make policy.

And so long as we are discussing Michigan, it is worth noting that the City of Detroit is pushing to have Michigan's statewide franchise law invalidated. Below you'll see the pdf of Detroit's recent...

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Posted November 1, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

I recently heard that the only place one finds a free lunch is in a mouse trap. As we sift through the lessons from the broadband stimulus programs, we have learned that the federal government preferred funding private projects rather than those that are structurally accountable to the community.

Before the first round of stimulus applications were due, many communities recognized the costs of applying were too high for them. Now, some are recognizing the high costs of complying with the many federal rules that come with accepting federal grants and loans (as detailed by Craig Settles).

And now, North Carolina's city of Wilson has found that applying for the broadband stimulus may have disadvantaged its FTTH network. Though the application was not accepted, the city has had to turn over its full application (chock full with proprietary information) to its competitors.

This is yet another example of ways in which the "playing field" is tilted against the public. The Wilson Times explained the situation and settlement.

The application included a proposed expansion of the network to provide reduced-cost or no-cost broadband lines to homes of Wilson County school children, a health network, increased lines for police and other improvements that would enhance the network in the city, Goings said.

When the North Carolina Telecommunications Association (with prominent member Time Warner Cable - incumbent cable provider competing with Wilson's Greenlight) asked to see the full application, the City refused to turn it over -- even after a court ruled against the City. The City argued the application contained key information regarding the policy and utilities that should not be made public for security reasons. When the Department of Homeland Security ignored the City's requests to intervene, the City was compelled to release the documents.

This is a particularly interesting juxtaposition as privately owned telcos and cablecos regularly argue against having to disclose any information about about their networks as a security...

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Posted October 13, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

In a TNR Review, Larry Lessig uses The Social Network to explain why we must maintain an open Internet. This fits exactly into our recurring theme on MuniNetworks.org that rules and structure matter greatly.

The full review is excellent and worth reading, but this is the key for our purposes (it comes toward the middle of the article):

Instead, what’s important here is that Zuckerberg’s [Founder of Facebook] genius could be embraced by half-a-billion people within six years of its first being launched, without (and here is the critical bit) asking permission of anyone. The real story is not the invention. It is the platform that makes the invention sing. Zuckerberg didn’t invent that platform. He was a hacker (a term of praise) who built for it. And as much as Zuckerberg deserves endless respect from every decent soul for his success, the real hero in this story doesn’t even get a credit.

Too few appreciate how revolutionary the Internet is because one does not have to ask permission to create content and distribute it via the Internet. However, there is a lot of money to be made and power to be had by forcing creators to ask permission -- this is what big companies like Comcast and AT&T want to do. They want more control over the Internet to further their interests.

The tragedy—small in the scale of things, no doubt—of this film is that practically everyone watching it will miss this point. Practically everyone walking out will think they understand genius on the Internet. But almost none will have seen the real genius here. And that is tragedy because just at the moment when we celebrate the product of these two wonders—Zuckerberg and the Internet—working together, policymakers are conspiring ferociously with old world powers to remove the conditions for this success. As “network neutrality” gets bargained away—to add insult to injury, by an administration that was elected with the promise to defend it—the opportunities for the Zuckerbergs of tomorrow will shrink. And as they do, we will return more to the world where success depends upon permission. And privilege. And insiders. And where fewer turn their souls to inventing the next great idea.

Prior to an important decision in 1968, one had to ask...

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Posted July 17, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

LUS has asked the court in Kansas to dismiss a lawsuit against it by NCTC (I previously explained this situation here). Down in Louisiana, a local paper is continuing to cover it and John at Lafayette Pro Fiber has explained the situation as well, with more context about the NCTC.

Once this lawsuit is dismissed, we'll hope for a ruling from the FCC that the NCTC cannot simply discriminate against some municipalities based on the private company incumbents doing business there.

Posted April 13, 2010 by Christopher Mitchell

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...

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