FCC Spells Out Net Neutrality… in 400 Pages

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The Federal Communications Commission spelled out how it will preserve the open Internet, releasing a 400-page detailed PDF that reviews its new, stricter regulations for broadband services found here.

The agency’s commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the order last month but did not release the order itself. Instead, Chairman Tom Wheeler and the agency served up select details through a fact sheet, press conferences and an appearance earlier this month at the Mobile World Conference trade show in Barcelona.

It marked the first chance for the public to get a full look at the order, which reclassifies broadband as a so-called Title II telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act. That reclassification allows the FCC to regulate providers using rules originally established for the old telephone network. This legal definition establishes broadband as a “common carrier,” a centuries-old concept that means carriers’ networks must be open to everyone. It also gives the FCC unprecedented authority over the industry.

Despite its length, the order is a must read for anyone interested in the issue, known among regulators and the industry as Net neutrality.

While consumer advocates and online businesses such as video-streaming service Netflix cheered the FCC’s stricter regulations, broadband providers such as Verizon and Comcast will likely sue the FCC to block the order. Their concern is that the Title II reclassification gives the FCC authority to set rates and impose tariffs that could translate into higher fees to consumers, stifle innovation and discourage companies from building new broadband networks and improving existing ones.

The FCC’s order is culmination of a roughly yearlong debate, complete with increasingly heated rhetoric. The Net neutrality issue went mainstream in June after comedian John Oliver delivered a 13-minute rant that went viral, resulting in a flood of comments to the FCC that temporarily crippled its public-comment system.

While the full document runs to 400 pages, the actual text of the new rules is only 305 words long. The rules prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing traffic on both wired and wireless networks. They also ban Internet service providers from offering paid priority services that could allow them to charge content companies, such as Netflix, fees to access Internet “fast lanes” to reach customers more quickly when networks are congested.

Reclassifying broadband as a utility gives the FCC its best shot at withstanding legal challenges. The courts have twice tossed out earlier rules aimed at protecting Internet openness. The FCC chairman has said repeatedly the agency does not intend to set rates or add new taxes to broadband bills. More than 100 pages of the 400-page document released Thursday explain that forbearance.

Creeping Grass Roots of Democracy?

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I have long lamented the slow lingering death of our democracy, stifled by big brother and big business…I wonder if tech that might finally be changing that. Two stories gave me hope this week…both have been around for a good while and you could hardly find more different topics. The first is Net Neutrality.

This became an issue when the supreme court threw out their earlier rulings last year, essentially requiring that the FCC had rule on Net Neutrality or “Open Internet” and in spite of all the lobbying dollars spent by Big Telco they came down on the side of regulating the Internet like water or electricity. Naturally people will still get different service levels depending on what service they subscribe to but your ISP will not (legally) be able to slow down your access to a service because it’s not offered by them or one of their partner companies. In spite of the obvious benefits of this measure the right wing-nuts and the big business they shill for are complaining up a storm that this is government interference. What’s fascinating…even amazing is that the FCC received over four million messages about this issue, the vast majority of which were private individuals expressing support of Open Internet. Four million!  The campaign to support Open Internet was waged by all kinds of companies and entities through social media, Podcasts and millions of discussions on thousands of online news stories in a desperate attempt to stop us falling further under the sway of Big Telco… and it worked. technology facilitated the discussion and gave the people a voice.

At the other extreme end of the spectrum recreational Marijuana was legalized (after a fashion) in Alaska and Washington DC this week.  In both cases the “powers that be” fought the measures tooth and nail, even threatened to jail the mayor of DC if it passed. Unfortunately the ground swell of people who are sick to death of being told what they can and can’t do by an over bearing militarized police state carried the day. Like Marriage Equality the corrupt right wing, big business religious bigotry which has held sway over so much of our history is coming up short because with social media and the increasingly fragmented media they can no longer control the message or the media. We can expect to see prison reform next on the agenda.

It’s fascinating to see that just as social and new media has driven the democracy campaigns across the Middle East and Asia the very same channels are allowing people in America to register their protest and make their voices heard. God Bless The USA….and Twitter.

The Battle For Your Pole

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If you look outside your home window there is a very good chance that you will see a utility pole with lord knows how many cables attached. It may be bringing power, phone, cable, fiber optic or all of the above. Why would this be of relevance to the Google obsessed like myself…well..let’s see.

If you follow the space you will have noted the FCC title II regulation kerfuffle. In short there is a heated (if very inside baseball) debate about whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should be regulated like the power companies as a utility as opposed to just another service. If they do end up being regulated that way then they will be limited to the extent that they can do things like charge more for certain kinds of service (like Netflix) or charge differently based on location, usage etc. Predictably the current monopolists like Verizon are fighting this tooth and claw…they hate this idea in the worse way.

Recently the president himself weighed in throwing his weight on the side of the “regulate as power company” faction. Enter Google. They are now arguing that if ISPs are to be treated as utilities then any ISP should have access to utility infrastructure like …the pole outside your window. Why would they want to?…well it’s simple. Google has amassed a huge network of fiber optic cables across the country but they have been stymied in the deployment of same in good part because whilst they have a substantial freeway network they lack the side roads to take that cable the last mile or so.  In many cases the cables which deliver to the household are up that pole. So if Google can persuade the FCC that ISPs are a utility (and as one of the largest lobbyist organizations in the US I think they can) and if they can also make the argument that those poles are a shared utility then instead of Google fiber creeping slowly Midwest town by Midwest town across the US, it might explode almost overnight. Their fiber product is cheaper and much faster than most in the market….which should force prices down and service up. So…fingers crossed!