Tag Archives: net neutrality

Net Neutrality may face uphill battle

by Leticia Miranda, ProPublica
February 26, 2015

The United States Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 for a proposal today that effectively bars Internet companies from prioritizing some Internet traffic over others. As John Oliver famously explained “ending net neutrality would allow big companies to buy their way into the fast lane, leaving everyone else in the slow lane.”

Demonstrators for net neutrality in the U.S., 2014. Photo by Stacie Isabella Turk/Ribbonhead via Flickr, Creative Commons

Demonstrators for net neutrality in the U.S., 2014. Photo by Stacie Isabella Turk/Ribbonhead via Flickr, Creative Commons

The FCC’s proposal faces plenty of opposition from telecom companies and others, but it’s just the latest round in a long fight. Here is a brief history of attempts to enact net neutrality and the often successful push against it.

The FCC votes to deregulate cable Internet services.

March 2002: The FCC, under the Bush administration and Republican Chairman Michael Powell, declares that cable modem services are “not subject to common carrier regulation,” meaning they aren’t bound by standards for nondiscrimination in service. Instead, cable Internet services fall under a separate light regulatory regime that gives the commission limited enforcement power.

Tim Wu coins the phrase “net neutrality.”

Fall 2003: Tim Wu, then an associate professor at the University of Virginia Law School, first coins the term “net neutrality” in a paper for the Journal of Telecommunications and High Technology Law. He defines net neutrality to mean an Internet “that does not favor one application…over others.”

The FCC adopts a toothless net neutrality-like policy statement.

August 2005: The FCC adopts a policy statement to “preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature of public Internet,” which focuses on protecting consumer access to content online and competition among Internet service companies. The statement has no power of enforcement.

The first net neutrality bill is introduced in Congress. It dies.

May 2006: Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., introduces a net neutrality bill that would keep Internet service companies from blocking, degrading or interfering with users’ access to their services. But the bill stalled in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and never came to a vote.

The FCC tells Comcast to stop slowing down access to BitTorrent.

August 2008: The FCC, under Republican Chairman Kevin Martin, orders Comcast to stop slowing down user access to BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer sharing network often used to share music and videos.

Comcast sues the FCC, and wins.

September 2008 — April 2010: Comcast voluntary agrees to stop slowing down BitTorrent traffic. But it takes the FCC to court anyway, arguing that the agency is operating outside its authority. Specifically, the company points out that the FCC’s 2005 policy statement on neutrality doesn’t have the force of law.

The FCC writes real rules on net neutrality.

December 2010: Democratic FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski writes an order to impose net neutrality rules. Unlike the FCC’s 2005 policy statement, this new order is a real rule, not just a policy statement.

Except Verizon sues the FCC, saying it has no authority to enforce the rules, and wins.

September 2011 — January 2014: The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals rules the Federal Communications Commission can’t enforce net neutrality rules because broadband Internet services don’t fall under its regulatory authority.

Senator introduces net neutrality bill that would ban the FCC from enforcement.

January 2015: Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., introduces a net neutrality bill as a discussion draft that would ban Internet service companies from blocking or degrading services or access to certain content, but would also strip the FCC of authority to enforce any of these rules.

The FCC chairman proposes to reclassify broadband Internet services and enforce net neutrality.

February 2015: Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler introduces the current net neutrality proposal. Internet service companies such as AT&T and Comcast would be banned from offering paid prioritization to content providers such as Amazon for faster access. But the proposal would also allow Internet service companies to prevent other companies from using their wires to connect homes to the Internet.

The FCC is expected to vote on rules today.

Feb. 26, 2015: The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposed rules this morning. The rules are expected to pass in a 3–2 decision with the two Republican commissioners dissenting.

This almost certainly will result in another fight.

The details of the new rules won’t be made public until after the vote. Experts expect challenges to the rules as soon as they are published. Michael Powell, a former FCC Chairman and current president and CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, told CNBC it could take “at least two and up to five years before the rules are fully and finally settled.”

Related coverage: Read about American state laws that make it difficult for cities to provide cheap, fast Internet through municipal broadband networks.   ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.

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Stealth campaigns in the net neutrality battleground

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by Robert Faturechi, ProPublica
October 9, 2014

On a recent Monday evening, two bearded young men in skinny jeans came to a parklet in San Francisco’s trendy Hayes Valley neighborhood and mounted what looked like an art installation. It was a bright blue, oversized “suggestion box” for the Internet.

The boxes, sometimes accompanied by young people in futuristic costumes, have been popping up on both coasts for weeks, soliciting messages of support – but their sponsor has been a mystery. The web site for the campaign, Onward Internet, does not say. Their domain registration is private. And the site includes no contact information, only an animated video heavy on millennial lingo: “The internet was made to move data…we got blogs, likes, selfies and memes, OMG, BRB and TTYL.”

The lone hint at a larger message is oblique. “The Internet is a wild, free thing,” the site says. “Unbounded by limits, unfettered by rules, it’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that the Internet continues to advance.”

Turns out Onward Internet may be the latest stealth entrant in the increasingly nasty battle over net neutrality, which will determine how the government regulates Internet providers.

The production agency for Onward Internet wouldn’t say who their client is, but an employee for the company that rented the space for the Hayes Valley installation let slip that “It’s something called the National Cable and Telecommunications Association” – the principal trade group for the telecom industry.

Telecom companies have been the fiercest opponents of a proposal under which the American government would treat broadband like a utility, making it easier for regulators to keep internet providers from blocking certain sites or saddling some content providers with slower speeds or higher fees.

As the United States Federal Communications Commission nears a decision on new rules, suspicions have grown that industry players are funding independent groups to create the appearance of diverse, grass-roots backing. Think tanks have been accused of being co-opted. Nonprofits have been criticized for concealing who they represent. In one case, the telecom industry was accused of fooling unwitting businesses into joining a coalition against broadband regulation.

NCTA officials did not respond to questions about Onward Internet and would not confirm they’re behind it. “What led you to the conclusion that this is an NCTA effort…?” asked Brian Dietz, a vice president for the organization, before he stopped responding to emails.

It’s unclear what the lobbying giant hopes to get out of this particular campaign, but the Onward Internet website, call-in line and Twitter feed are collecting messages of support from visitors who would have no way of knowing they’re backing a telecom industry campaign.

 “Sorry we can’t come to the phone right now,” the call-in greeting says. “We just got wind of the juiciest celebrity rumor and we’re working to confirm it. So please leave your suggestion for the future of the internet at the beep and visit Onward Internet dot com next month to see what we’ve done with it.”

Many in the tech community have pinned their hopes for saving net neutrality on the reclassification proposal that would give the FCC more power over internet providers. Their belief is that it would make it harder for internet providers to charge content providers more for faster service, and thus protect tech startups from being squashed by established brands that have the resources to pay a premium.

That’s why there was surprise in Silicon Valley when a nonprofit called CALinnovates, which says it represents the interests of technology companies and start-ups, entered the debate by taking a stance against the government regulation plan.

 “We’d never heard of them until then,” said Julie Samuels, executive director of Engine, a nonpartisan startup advocacy group.

CALinnovates filed comments with the FCC opposing the plan. The group’s executive director Mike Montgomery wrote a column for the Huffington Post, echoing warnings raised by the telecom industry that more regulation would hamper innovation.

“Would we even know what an iPhone is if Steve Jobs had to run his pricing models past the FCC?” Montgomery asked. “Would Twitter be fomenting revolution if Jack Dorsey needed to check with regulators about what kind of data can be shared online and by whom?”

Most notably, the nonprofit got a flurry of press coverage for a poll it commissioned that found Americans don’t support more regulation: “Only one in four Americans believe that government policies can keep up with the pace of innovation that we are seeing with technology, such as the Internet.”

The group’s stance gave the anti-reclassification camp a backer from within the tech community – a boon for one of CALinnovates’ supporters, AT&T.

In an interview with ProPublica, Montgomery declined to say to what extent his organization is funded by the telecom giant, which is listed as a “partner” on its website. Asked if AT&T consulted with him about his net neutrality stance, he said “We have input and advice from all of our members.”

Later, a spokesman for the nonprofit released a statement to ProPublica saying, “CALinnovates’ position on net neutrality was based on a thorough economic and legal analysis and reflects CALinnovates’ independent thinking on matters important to the tech industry.”

The organization’s telecom-friendly position didn’t seem to mesh with its advisory board, which includes some of Silicon Valley’s more prominent names. Ron Conway, for example, is a well-known angel investor who has been a strong backer of government action to protect net neutrality.

Asked about the apparent contradiction by ProPublica, Conway’s spokesman lauded “diversity of viewpoints” and CALinnovates but said his boss was on “opposite sides” with the nonprofit.

Days later, Conway resigned from the CALinnovates board.

Outside of CALinnovates, Montgomery has worked for other organizations with telecom ties. Before heading up the nonprofit, he worked for a lobbying firm and political candidates that have taken money from AT&T.

Montgomery said he did not feel he needed to disclose CALinnovates’ AT&T ties in his columns on net neutrality.

“We receive support from all of our partners,” he said. “I think you’ll see a diversity of opinion if you spend some time reading all the things I write.”

The FCC has been taking public comments and hosting forums on net neutrality for months, and is expected to make a decision by the end of the year.

Columbia Law School professor Tim Wu – who coined the term net neutrality in 2003 and is a proponent of government regulation to protect it – said he worries astroturfing efforts may lull some lawmakers into inaction.

“The effect of the astroturfing is to make everything foggy,” Wu said. “It propels the argument that if things are cloudy, government should stay away (and) let the market decide.”

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Robert Faturechi covers campaign finance for ProPublica. He was a reporter at the Los Angeles Times from 2009 to 2014, where he exposed inmate abuse, cronyism, and wrongful jailings at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

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