Net Neutrality Under Fire — Here’s How to Act Now!

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Last week, Senator Maria Cantwell held a Seattle Town Hall meeting with FCC Commissioner  Mignon Clyburn, the only Democrat currently serving on the commission, to sound the alarm that Net Neutrality may be the next domino to fall in the Donald Trump era of stripping away almost any type of regulation protecting the rights of the unmonied and vulnerable.

“Net neutrality is the first amendment for the Internet,” commissioner Clyburn alerted. Yes, it’s that important!

Our U.S. Senator warned the gathering that the elimination of Net Neutrality would allow Internet providers to sell different broadband speeds to different customers, effectively creating a two-tier Internet that cuts out the little guy.

“That’s why we want to have this basic protection,” Cantwell explained to a Washington business owner in the audience who asked a question. “You should say to every customer that you have in your business now, ‘This is just going to make it more expensive.’ Why should we allow that when we believe this is a basic service that should be available to the American people? Get that word out to the customer base and ask people to comment.”

The proposal would let Internet service providers opt-in or opt-out of the promise to uphold Net Neutrality principles by including (or discluding) them in their terms of service with customers. The FCC would also hand oversight of those companies to a different agency than the FCC: the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). 
Undoing Net Neutrality would mean big changes for how customers access the internet, the plans and services that broadband companies provide, and how web companies reach their consumers.
Newly Trump-appointed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, who used to work for Verizon, firmly believes that Internet companies have not expanded because they’re over-regulated by the government. He says Title II disincentivizes companies from competing with each other, which  means they make less money.

Here are four ways the Internet will change if Pai gets his way:

1. More free data plans

Under the changes, mobile broadband providers would be able to let consumers access certain content without using up their data plans.

Verizon, for example, allows its customers to stream some NFL games without data charges. And T-Mobile lets some of its subscribers stream Netflix, HBO and Hulu without counting them against their data limits as part of its Binge On service.

Data-free apps have been popular with consumers, but net neutrality supporters worry they allow broadband providers to give preference to content providers they have deals with. Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler also argued that free data arrangements make it harder for smaller content creators to get attention.

If net neutrality goes, consumers could see more telecommunications companies offer such plans.

The FCC could still decide to keep some rules on free data deals, but that’s unlikely under Pai.

“Free data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly those with low incomes, because they allow consumers to enjoy content without data limits or charges,” he said in February. “They have also enhanced competition.”

“Preemptive government regulation did not produce that result. The free market did,” he added.

If net neutrality goes out the window, so will the restrictions limiting those free data plans, making it easier for customers to access some content — but content their providers favor.

2. Internet fast lanes

Without the net neutrality rules, consumer groups and smaller Internet companies fear broadband providers could offer faster internet speeds to companies that pay up and slow down those don’t or can’t pony up.

Known as paid prioritization, it’s the post-net neutrality scenario that most worries the rules’ supporters.

Broadband companies could ask video-streaming giants like Netflix, which have cut into cable profits, to pay big bucks to ensure that their content reaches customers without any interference.

But critics also worry that startups and younger companies won’t be able to get a foothold if they are forced to pay more to get access to strong streaming or download speeds.

Wheeler and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday said the absence of fast lanes allowed YouTube, a then-small upstart service in 2005, to overtake Google Video.

“Internet service providers treated YouTube’s videos the same as they did Google’s, and Google couldn’t pay the ISPs [internet service providers] to gain an unfair advantage, like a fast lane into consumers’ homes,” they wrote. “Well, it turned out that people liked YouTube a lot more than Google Video, so YouTube thrived.”

Net neutrality critics, though, argue that services like Netflix that take up lots of bandwidth should be forced to pay more.

Former President George W. Bush adviser Scott Cleland, an advocate for broadband businesses, argued in a Hill op-ed that by blocking paid prioritization, “the previous FCC forced consumers to subsidize the outsized bandwidth usage costs of the most profitable companies in America.”

3. More challenges for the little guy

Smaller internet service providers and internet startups could be in for a tough time.

Net neutrality critics say that without the neutrality rules, the playing field will favor established or dominant companies — such as Charter Communications, which acquired Time Warner Cable, or web giants like Google.

Only established companies will be able to compete in the new environment, they fear, with deep pockets to get into internet fast lanes and the money to cut deals for content to package in their data plans.

Eight hundred startups, innovators and investors sent a letter to Pai on Wednesday arguing that his proposal to roll back net neutrality could hurt their industry.

“Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the Internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market,” they wrote.

“They could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose new tolls on us, inhibiting consumer choice.”

Smaller internet service providers have many of the same concerns.

Repealing net neutrality “could toss the streaming and Internet economy back into chaos, taking consumers back to a time when ISPs like Comcast throttled Netflix and consumers had to buffer their way through a binge,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of Incompas, a trade association that represents smaller broadband providers.

4. A new regulator for telecoms

Under Pai’s proposal, broadband companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon would no longer be regulated by the FCC. The chairman wants to remove their designation as “common carriers,” which allowed his agency to regulate them like public utilities.

Undoing that would cede authority over broadband providers back to the FTC.

But critics argue the FTC lacks the teeth to effectively regulate telecommunications companies in the way the FCC can.

“The Federal Trade Commission is a tiny enforcement agency without any rulemaking authority,” said Andrew Schwartzman, a Georgetown University Law Center professor specializing in communications and technology.

Critics point to the challenges of regulating companies that handle vast amounts of consumer data, which they say will be even harder after the repeal earlier this year of internet privacy rules that stemmed from net neutrality.

“They [the FTC] are focused on whether a company like Walmart properly protects its customers privacy information when they have an account on the internet. Telecom is different. The nature of the info they have is much, much more significant,” Schwartzman continued.

The FTC differs from the FCC in that it doesn’t have the authority to make pre-emptive rules. It would act if companies didn’t honor their terms of service with customers.

“It’s an unworkable scheme and relies on a higher level of trust than most people have for their ISPs,” Schwartzman argued.

But the FTC’s acting Republican chairman, Maureen Ohlhausen, has dismissed those criticisms.

“Net neutrality regulation reflects a lack of confidence in market forces that I do not share,” Ohlhausen wrote in 2016. “Antitrust can protect the competitive sphere in which edge providers and ISPs operate.”

Some small internet service providers also believe that they could stand to benefit from FTC oversight instead of the FCC’s, especially if they are no longer regulated like public utilities.

In his speech announcing the net neutrality changes, Pai cited 22 broadband providers, each with under 1,000 customers, that claimed that aspect of net neutrality “affected [their] ability to obtain financing.”

Some of those smaller broadband companies say they can offer “innovative” new services without the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

A majority of registered voters support net neutrality rules that prevent ISPs from blocking, throttling or prioritizing content on the web, according to a poll from NCTA, a trade group that represents the cable and internet industry.

The survey found that 61 percent either strongly or somewhat support net neutrality rules, while 18 percent either strongly or somewhat oppose them. Another 21 percent either did not know or had no opinion.

Republicans, the cable industry and groups such as the NCTA are opposed to the net neutrality rules because they reclassified the broadband industry as telecommunications services, a designation that opens those companies up to tougher regulation from the FCC.

The NCTA poll also included questions about the role the government should have in regulating the Internet. A quarter said that the government should not regulate the internet at all, and 51 percent said it should employ a “light touch approach” to regulation — a phrase often used by new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in arguing against the net neutrality rules.

However, a razor’s edge 51 percent said that the internet should not be regulated like a public utility — one of the GOP’s main arguments against the net neutrality rules, though Democrats argue that the rules are not that heavy-handed — while 33 percent said it should.

The Web’s Founder Weighs In

Tim Berners-Lee, the founder of the Web who visited Seattle last year to debut his film “ForEveryone.Net” at SIFF,  published a short video defending the de facto FCC’s rules. “If we lost net neutrality, we lose the internet as we know it,” he said in the video.

 

The deadline to let your voice be heard on the issue is fast approaching — Aug. 16. Here’s how to let your voice be heard

There are two ways of submitting a comment in the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System. First, go to the listing for the “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal — yes, that’s what it’s called. On the left are two buttons. (Click to enlarge the image art right).

(If the link above doesn’t work for you, go here and type “17-108” in the top box. It should fill itself in and the result will be the same.)

If you just want to write a note explaining your views or answer of the many questions in the NPRM, click “Express” — this has fewer boxes to fill out and no option for attaching documents.

For most people, the page should look like this:

 

If, on the other hand, you are (for example) a lawyer or professor and want to attach a more substantial analysis or chart, use “New Filing” and you’ll have the relevant tools.

Note that all this information will be publicly available, including your name and address! That’s part of the deal if you want to take part in the process. It also helps keep repeat and fake submissions down. (They’ll probably throw away the ones signed “Mickey Mouse.”)

How Might You Comment?

TechCrunch has shared a few tips on how to communicate your views:

While all the comments will be looked at in one way or another, more substantial ones that address specific points in the proposal will almost certainly get more attention.

“Make your position clear, whatever it may be, and use the paragraph numbers in the NPRM to call out specific points. You can download it in a couple of formats here — it’s long, but scan through it and you’ll definitely find something worth commenting on.

Take your time to craft a substantial comment addressing a specific issue you can speak to personally, or that you’ve looked into enough to feel you have an informed opinion.

For example, say you wanted to weigh in on whether the ban on broadband providers throttling certain content is a good idea, or if you trust them to do so voluntarily. You could write:

Paragraph 82 asks for input on whether throttling should be regulated. In the past ISPs have throttled content based on their own determination of what was lawful or permissible, and had to be forced to stop in the courts. Isn’t it possible they could do this again? I’m also concerned by mobile providers who say a plan is “unlimited,” but when you exceed the data cap, only throttle sites and services that aren’t part of their approved zero-rating network. Thanks for reading my comment.

You can be more broad if you want, even if you’re not quite sure what things like Title II and Section 706 are:

I’m worried that the protections that are in place will be weakened if we change the way they’re enforced. I would support a new regulation style if it guarantees the same or better protections, but not if we lose any.

TechCrunch adds: “This kind of input is important, too. Let’s just try to avoid things like “You suck FCC! XD””

Unless you want to, you don’t have to have references or links or anything. This is about making your voice heard, not making a case in court. As long as you make your point clearly, your comment will be counted among those preferring one course over another.

For organizations and bulk submissions

Do you work at an organization, charity, school or the like, and have a bunch of comments that you’ve collected that you’d like to put into the system? The FCC respectfully asks that you not submit hundreds or thousands of similar comments via the ECFS form, as it can bog things down. Instead, you can submit them in bulk — they’ll all still count as individual messages, though!

Go to this page and download the template CSV file — it’s basically a spreadsheet with a number of basic headings that can be parsed easily by the FCC system. The template already has the correct information in the first three columns.

That’s it — now get commenting!

Just transfer the data from your form to that spreadsheet, then attach the spreadsheet and let the FCC know how to get in touch with you if something’s wrong with it. If you’re planning on submitting a really major collection of comments, the FCC asks that you get in touch first at ECFSHelp@fcc.gov.

Another way to send a letter to the FCC and Congress is a far less personal short form on the “Battle for the Net” Website.

Now get commenting! [24×7]

 

Category: ShopTalk

About the Author (Author Profile)

Larry Sivitz is founder, publisher and managing editor of Seattle24x7, the founder of SearchWrite Search Marketing, an SEO, PPC and Social Media Thought Leader, and an SPJ award winner for Seattle magazine.

Moon on Tech: Cary is a supporter of city-owned municipal broadband and is eager to develop policies that treat broadband as a public utility like water or sewer. However, according to WTIA, it was clear she did not have a full grasp of the market dynamics, the economics, or the regulatory framework in this complex matter. She was quite eager to study the matter further and refine her point of view.

Cary has endorsements from The Urbanist and The Stranger.



The city of Seattle’s primary election is August 1st. [24×7]

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