We have always been at war for Net Neutrality
June 13, 2018 9:46 PM   Subscribe

In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted historic Internet rules (CNN Money), when the Democratic-led commission approved 3-to-2, split along party lines, to assert extra government authority over the Internet and permitted enforcement of net neutrality rules that would prevent Internet providers—including cellular carriers—from blocking or throttling traffic or giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment (Ars Technica). That came to an end on Monday, June 11, 2018 (CNN Money), following another FCC vote, split on party lines again (CNN Money), but breaking for the GOP. The FCC's Net Neutrality rules are dead, but the fight isn't (Wired).

At the core of this debate (Daily Dot) is Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 (PDF). Title II is the legal foundation on which the FCC enacted the Open Internet Order of 2015 (PDF), which established rules for internet service providers (ISPs) regarding net neutrality.
Why is Title II so important for net neutrality?

Essentially, without broadband providers being classified as common carriers under Title II, the FCC would lack the legal authority to enforce net neutrality rules against block, throttling, and paid prioritization.

This is the result of a January 2014 court decision (PDF) in Verizon v. FCC when a federal appeals court struck down (DD) key parts of the FCC’s Open Internet Order of 2010. As the court’s ruling states, “the Commission had failed to cite any statutory authority that would justify its order compelling a broadband provider to adhere to open network management practices.”

The ruling was a blow to net neutrality, however: It left the door open for the five-member FCC to write new rules to fortify the open internet. This is what eventually led to the FCC voting 3-2, along party lines, to enact the Open Internet Order of 2015 and reclassify broadband under Title II.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who voted against the 2015 Open Internet Order, laid out his reasoning for rolling back the Title II reclassification in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
So it should be no surprise about what the Republicans had control of the FCC, particularly with Pai at the helm. Ajit Pai’s FCC voted to allow industries to self-regulate (AT), under the repeal order that was titled Restoring Internet Freedom (FCC).

But over the years, ISPs and cellular carriers large and small have violated net neutrality principals: Companies have pledged to "not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content," but are generally silent on paid prioritization or zero-rating (Wiki) services or sites, like Portuguese mobile phone company MEO already does (The Verge), zero-rated access to their own service "MEO cloud", but caps the amount of data customers can use to access competing services, selling monthly data packages.

What happens next? First, some companies have ongoing net neutrality requirements. Comcast, the nation's largest broadband provider, is forbidden from violating net neutrality under the terms of the government's approval of its 2011 acquisition of NBC Universal (Wiki), but that restriction expires in September. Charter, the second-largest home broadband provider, is required to uphold net neutrality until 2023 under the terms of its acquisition of Time Warner Cable in 2016 (Wiki).

And under the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, Congress, with the approval of the president, can not only reject regulations issued by a federal agency but effectively bar that agency from taking similar action again. This process already started, when Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA-14) introduced a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to overturn the FCC's decision on net neutrality (Doyle press release). Though the senate approved the resolution to overturn the FCC decision (NPR), it's a long road to get from here to enough House votes and support from the president. Fight for the Future's Battle for the Net [FftF previously; BftN previously] initiative claimed a victory with the Senate, and still has hope for the House, as there's strong bipartisan support for net neutrality among the public (WaPo). Otherwise, there are a flurry of lawsuits that have been filed to fight the repeal of net neutrality (NYT).

The fight is also happening at lower levels of government, as several states have already reinstated their own network neutrality regulations (Wiki), and some governors have issued executive orders (The Hill) that prohibit the state from doing business with any broadband company that violates the principles of net neutrality.
posted by filthy light thief (12 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
This post is awesome but my war for net neutrality began back in the 80s when someone else in my family would pick up the phone and kill my connection with the BBS I was dialed into.

Also, this post is totally awesome.
posted by hippybear at 10:27 PM on June 13, 2018 [10 favorites]

Has every one contacted his/her Congress Critters? If you don't ask, there will be no answer.
posted by Cranberry at 12:16 AM on June 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

I see alot about cell carriers Verizon and AT&T. What about Sprint, T-Mobile, and other smaller carriers? Are they less shitty or just less publicized?
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:35 AM on June 14, 2018

Flagged as fantastic, FLT. (Also, the Capitol Hill switchboard is (202) 224-3121, and Fax Zero offers a free service to contact Representatives here and Senators here.)
posted by Doktor Zed at 5:21 AM on June 14, 2018

If Comcast, Verizon, Disney and the rest are smart they'll roll the changes out really slow so the attrition is almost imperceptible and a tiny extra fee is just another of the cryptic line items on the unreadable bill. Having a big annoying change to get on the nightly news a lot would be great but they'll probably be smart.

I know Musk is out of favor but... StarLink to the rescue!
posted by sammyo at 6:56 AM on June 14, 2018

Thanks for the push to put this together, Doctor Zed.
posted by filthy light thief at 6:58 AM on June 14, 2018

Comcast offers $65 billion for Fox, says government won’t stop merger -- Comcast gains confidence from AT&T's victory over Trump administration. (Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica, June 13, 2018)
Comcast today made a $65 billion offer to buy major portions of 21st Century Fox, setting up a potential bidding war with Walt Disney Company.

Disney already struck a $52.4 billion all-stock deal to buy the Fox properties, but Comcast announced that it is making an all-cash offer to "provide [Fox] shareholders with certain value and immediate liquidity."

The offer comes one day after a judge rejected the Trump administration's attempt to block AT&T's purchase of Time Warner Inc. The ruling suggests that Trump's Department of Justice wouldn't be able to stop a Comcast/Fox deal.
The sale to either Disney or Comcast would include 21st Century Fox's film and television studios; cable entertainment networks; the Fox Sports Regional Networks; and international properties including Star in India and Fox's 39-percent ownership of Sky across Europe.

The sale would also include Fox's 30-percent stake in Hulu. Comcast already owns 30 percent of Hulu, so this deal would give it majority control of the online video service. Disney also has a 30-percent stake in Hulu, while Time Warner owns 10 percent of the company.

The Fox sale would not include major assets such as the Fox News Channel, Fox Business Network, and Fox Broadcasting Company. Those would be spun off into a new company, and Comcast or Disney would acquire 21st Century Fox after the spinoff.
NPR's coverage yesterday included a few more key details, including that the decision isn't up to the Murdoch family, but because they still own 40% of the publicly traded company, they still have significant power. And I didn't realize what a powerhouse Netflix has become in less than a decade, from offering a streaming-only plan in 2010 to now spends $8 billion dollars on creating new content, "many more billions a year on creating original content that any of these traditional Hollywood studios can do" per NPR.

We'll see if these vertical integrations hurt the various related markets, and how this plays out with no net neutrality to protect competing companies from throttled access.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:26 AM on June 14, 2018 [1 favorite]

What about Sprint, T-Mobile, and other smaller carriers? Are they less shitty or just less publicized?

They're (currently)* different companies with different histories on this topic.

First, here's the Sprint Statement on Chairman Pai’s Net Neutrality Proposal (April 26, 2017), and earlier, Sprint CEO: Without Net neutrality rules, we're toast -- Chief executive Marcelo Claure defends the company's stance as the only major wireless operator to support the FCC's new Net neutrality regulation. (Marguerite Reardon for CNet, March 26, 2015)

Around the same time, when the FCC was getting ready to reclassify fixed and mobile broadband as a common carrier service, T-Mobile['s COO]: FCC’s net neutrality rules won’t hurt our business -- Sprint and T-Mobile less concerned about regulation than the biggest carriers. (Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica, Feb. 20, 2015)
Like Sprint before it, T-Mobile US has said it's not that concerned about the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality plan.

“There is nothing in there that gives us deep concern about our ability to continue executing our strategy,” T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal yesterday.

"Still, he said the reclassification isn’t the most desirable approach," the Journal wrote.
Then there's T-Mobile['s CEO] lashing out in net neutrality spat (Mario Trujillo for The Hill, 01/09/16)
T-Mobile’s bombastic CEO John Legere is throwing punches ahead of what could be the first high-profile test of the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules.

The FCC has only cautiously waded into the debate about T-Mobile’s new Binge On video program. But outside advocates have raised (EFF) strong net neutrality charges that the program is capping or reducing the download speeds of all video played over its network — a technique known as “throttling.”

Legere has called that criticism a matter of semantics and picked a fight with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the respected digital rights group that made the allegations.

“Who the f--k are you anyway EFF, why are you stirring up so much trouble and who pays you?” Legere said in a video message Thursday. He also called the charges “bullshit” and his critics “jerks.”
This was in response to the claim that T-Mobile Binge On Violate Net Neutrality (Tom Bradley for Forbes, Jan 8, 2016), which was supported when Researchers found that T-Mobile's Binge On doesn't live up to its claims (Thea Singer, Northeastern University via Phys.org, June 17, 2016)
New research from Northeastern University shows that what T-Mobile promises regarding its Binge On service is not what subscribers, or content providers, may actually get. In many cases, subscribers were left with lower quality videos and unexpected charges.

"At the time of our study, important details about the Binge On policy were not in public documents," says researcher David Choffnes. "They are available now, but much remains largely hidden to the average content provider and subscriber. Both can be misled."

Choffnes' team conducted the research in February and March, and the paper was accepted in May by the IGCOMM Internet-QoE workshop. He has shared the paper with the Federal Communications Commission to help inform its investigation of T-Mobile's compliance with the Open Internet Order, passed a year ago.

To analyze Binge On, the researchers "reverse engineered" how T-Mobile implemented its policies. "We set out to learn exactly how Binge On works, and we compared what we found with its stated policies," says Choffnes. "There were significant differences between the two."

Consider: Binge On touts its use of "zero rating," which means the service doesn't count your streaming internet usage against your data plan as long as the videos you're viewing are from providers who participate in Binge On.

That qualifier, says Choffnes, presents a significant danger to the FCC's Open Internet Order. The order's central concept is "net neutrality," which means that, with few exceptions, ISPs must treat all internet traffic and applications the same. For an ISP to slow down one provider's video but not another's, says Choffnes, puts the former at a competitive disadvantage.
Worse news: The boards of Sprint Corp. and T-Mobile US Inc. struck an all-stock $26 billion merger that, if allowed by antitrust enforcers, would leave the U.S. wireless market dominated by three national players.
Joining forces would create a wireless provider with nearly 100 million cellphone customers, second only in the U.S. to Verizon Communications Inc. The combined company, which would be called T-Mobile, would be run by T-Mobile CEO John Legere.
Meanwhile, network engineers say the next-generation 5G standards could allow wireless companies to serve huge new markets, from home internet service still dominated by cable companies to autonomous cars just now being developed.

But rolling out 5G services will require heavy investment in cellular spectrum and installing hundreds of thousands of antennas around the country, which gave new impetus to Sprint and T-Mobile executives to join forces.

AT&T said it will devote at least $23 billion to capital spending this year, excluding some investments in a new public-safety network. Verizon said it plans to spend at least $17 billion on capital expenditures in 2018. Both budgets are well ahead of Sprint and T-Mobile, which each spend under $10 billion a year on construction, electronics and the like.

Left alone, the spending gap will only widen as companies rush to install 5G equipment. "You can't win a race by having half the horses," said Roger Entner, an analyst for telecom consultant Recon Analytics Inc.
tl;dr: T-Mobile's CEO is a jerk who doesn't support net neutrality, and he might be running the 2nd largest wireless telecom if the Sprint + T-Mobile merger is approved, which is more likely in light of the AT&T's win.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:51 AM on June 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

One problem is that whenever a given technological or scientific question becomes politicized, many to most people take the position advocated by their tribe regardless of the facts. Scientists and engineers are encouraged strongly to try and make their cases non-political because of this. The widespread acceptance of the HBV vaccine vs the highly partisan rejection of the HPV vaccine is a good example.

Problem is, this means that if someone can profit by advancing a position that goes against science and facts they have a clear avenue to getting around 50% of the US population to accept that position simply by making it a political issue.

Which is what happened with net neutrality.

From a factual standpoint, net neutrality is the easiest and simplest possible decision to make. This was true way back when the big telecoms were pretending that the problem was little telecoms taking advantage of them via peering, and it's true today when the big telecoms practically drooling in anticipation of being able to charge extra for access to "premium" internet sites (or to extort the big content providers, or even better both!).

All the arguments against net neutrality are complete bullshit and cannot withstand even the slightest examination.

But that doesn't matter to the roughly 50% of America who identifies as part of the Republican tribe. Their tribe has declared net neutrality to be bad, therefore they will support its end and facts simply, flatly, do not matter.

It also doesn't help that, as with so many technological issues, the facts can get involved, arcane, and convoluted. The basic idea is simple, but when people opposing net neutrality drill into details it unavoidably gets complex and that helps people turn off their brains and simply go with what their social group, or tribe, or whatever you want to call it, demands.

Which is why we're in this weird situation where factually and technologically every single bit of reason, evidence, and logic supports net neutrality, but politically the issue is about evenly split. It isn't that most Democrats understand net neutrality better than most Republicans do, it's simply that our tribe happens to be on the right side of the facts so by sheer coincidence most Democrats happen to be on the right side of the facts too.

Like with climate change, facts don't matter here.
posted by sotonohito at 7:52 AM on June 14, 2018 [4 favorites]

sotonohito: But that doesn't matter to the roughly 50% of America who identifies as part of the Republican tribe. Their tribe has declared net neutrality to be bad, therefore they will support its end and facts simply, flatly, do not matter.

But Net Neutrality has generally had broad bipartisan support, as seen in the final question in this University of Maryland's Program for Public Consultation's Net Neutrality Survey (PDF), from December 2017, where 82.9% of those surveyed were not in favor of allowing internet service provides the freedom to:

* provide websites the option to give their visitors the ability to download material at a higher speed, for a fee, while providing a slower download speed for other websites
* block access to certain websites
* charge their customers an extra fee to gain access to certain websites

Broken down by party identification:
GOP: 21.0% in favor, 75.4% against, 3.6% refused/didn't know
Dem.: 11.0% in favor, 88.5% against, 0.5% refused/didn't know
Indep.: 14.0% in favor, 85.9% against, 0.1% refused/didn't know

Net neutrality has had, and continues to have, broad public support. But when members of the GOP did try to undo Pai's actions, they give major concession to ISPs (Ars Technica, March 7, 2018)
The bill's summary notes that the blocking and throttling bans "do not prevent providers from offering specialized services that are offered over the same network and may share network capacity with the broadband Internet access service."
So the GOP as elected officials, and Pai himself, have continued to side with companies and against the will of the public at large, including self-identifying Republicans.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:30 AM on June 14, 2018 [5 favorites]

Yeah, sotonohito, I feel you, but this has more to do with “big companies/donors want a rule change to favor them” than “the people are seeking or opposing a rule change.” Money talks, as always, in Washington.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:24 AM on June 15, 2018

that doesn't matter to the roughly 50% of America who identifies as part of the Republican tribe

It's not half; it's 24% solid or under 40% fuzzy. Wikipedia points out:
As of October 2017, Gallup polling found that 31% of Americans identified as Democrat, 24% identified as Republican, and 42% as Independent.[3] Additionally, polling showed that 46% are either "Democrats or Democratic leaners" and 39% are either "Republicans or Republican leaners"
(We outnumber them. We just need to push progressives to vote more, to not buy into the myth that "politics is boring and they're all corrupt and you can't do anything about them anyway.")
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:06 AM on June 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

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