Speak Up for Net Neutrality – Take II

Speak Up for Net Neutrality – Take II

Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) chairman, announced that he and thus the FCC are moving forward with reversing net neutrality and that the FCC Board will vote on this issue on December 14th, 2017. While it is next to certain that the Board will vote to revoke the net neutrality law, speaking up on this issue is still critically important – giving voice is always wise and in the law suits that are sure to follow, it will be important for the defenders of net neutrality to the point to the millions of Americans who have spoken up to protect net neutrality.

A loss of net neutrality would mean that the internet would morph into a product, the main goal of which is to make money. Internet providers could, and most likely would, create various speeds at which internet content is transmitted to you, the user, and could, probably would, charge customers more to get the faster speed and to access various parts of the internet (https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2017/11/21/16680290/fcc-end-net-neutrality-vote-announced). An example can be seen in Portugal, which does not have net neutrality laws, where an internet service provider has broken up access to the internet into different ‘units’ that you need to buy separately, think of this as an à la carte approach to using the internet: if you want to access Facebook you have to buy the social media package, if you want to engage in messaging then the messaging package is for you and if watching videos is in your future then you need to add that package to your cart, etc…. (http://www.iflscience.com/technology/country-net-neutrality/). The way, in which we use the internet, our very understanding of what the internet is and who it is available to (i.e. everyone) will be fundamentally changed by a revoking of net neutrality. Experts are saying that an increased price tag for one’s internet service is almost guaranteed to occur following the removal of net neutrality ((https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/technology/net-neutrality-repeal-questions.html).

Mr. Pai’s, and the Republican, argument for revoking net neutrality is essentially a version of trickle-down economics; the argument is that if Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the company that provides you your internet access (less than 25% of the country has multiple ISPs to choose from – I know this includes where we live in the VC), is de-regulated and free to charge more for fast access then those companies will make more profits. These companies will then turn around and re-invest those profits into building up America’s internet infrastructure. This increased internet infrastructure will lead to more ISPs and therefore more competition and thus the free market will ensure that prices as well as access stay competitive (https://www.politico.com/story/2017/11/22/ajit-pai-fcc-defends-net-neutrality-repeal-258161, https://www.theverge.com/platform/amp/2017/11/21/16680290/fcc-end-net-neutrality-vote-announced). Another argument that Mr. Pai makes is that he is simply returning the internet to what it was before the net neutrality law of 2015, while this may sound great – the truth is that in the US, the internet has always followed net neutrality. Thus the 2014 decision by the FCC codified what was standard practice – see the blog post from July 3rd, 2017 for more on this.

Needless to say countless people, the Democratic Party as well as many internet companies point out that there are numerous problems with this logic and that numerous things can, and probably will go wrong with this free-market approach. In short there are two major fears of opponents to the FCC’s upcoming decision: 1) an end to net neutrality will result in a “pay-to-play technology” with big companies and the well-to-do cruising in the internet fast lane while the rest of us, as well as start-ups and small companies, cruising in the slow lane, 2) the policy Mr. Pai has put forward would allow ISP’s to block content, which has never before been allowed, and thus there is bonafide fear that the intentional slowing of certain content or even censorship will begin to occur (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/technology/net-neutrality-repeal-questions.html, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/21/technology/fcc-net-neutrality.html).

While the time period has ended to make a formal statement to the FCC, here is the contact information for the FCC, including Chairman Pai – make your opinions on this issue heard: https://www.fcc.gov/about/contact.


Speak Up Against the FCC’s Plan to End Net Neutrality

Speak Up Against the FCC’s Plan to End Net Neutrality

The way things stand at this present moment in time is that everything occurring on the internet occurs at the same speed, so regardless of wealth, opinion, location, regardless of anything everyone has the same speed of receiving the desired data: “As written, the [net neutrality] rules prevent Internet providers… from deliberately speeding up or slowing down traffic from specific websites and apps. In short, they’re intended to prevent providers from playing favorites (http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/24/technology/fcc-net-neutrality/?iid=EL).” Phrased another way, net neutrality is our norm, it is the only way we have known the internet: “Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use. Net Neutrality is the way that the internet has always worked…. When you use the internet you expect Net Neutrality…. When you go online you have certain expectations. You expect to be connected to whatever website you want. You expect that your cable or phone company isn’t messing with the data and is connecting you to all websites, applications and content you choose. You expect to be in control of your internet experience” (https://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-now).

While the internet has always functioned with net neutrality, this did not become law until 2015 – when due in part to millions of activists who protested, wrote comments and put pressure on the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) – the FCC established net neutrality as law. The FCC did this by classifying internet providers as public utility companies, meaning that the FCC had the right to legislate them. Trump’s appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has stated that in regards to the net neutrality law, “It has become evident that the FCC made a mistake,” (http://money.cnn.com/2017/02/28/technology/fcc-net-neutrality/index.html) and thus he intends to un-due the classification of internet providers as public utility companies, meaning that the FCC will no longer have legal say over internet providers – the Federal Trade Commission, the FTC, would become the governmental agency overseeing internet providers (see blog post form April 12, 2017 for more info on the FTC and how it is regarded as being a low enforcement agency). It is unclear if the FCC under Chairman Pai’s leadership will allow for some skeletal form of net neutrality or not (Sources for the paragraph: https://www.theverge.com/2017/5/23/15681434/net-neutrality-how-to-comment-fcc-proposal-released, http://thehill.com/policy/technology/334743-fcc-opens-public-comment-period-for-net-neutrality).

The FCC has put forth their stance against net neutrality in a proposal entitled “Restoring Internet Freedom”, which can be found at: https://www.fcc.gov/restoring-internet-freedom. The FCC states that through “market-based policies” and “…  [reducing] needless red tape, the Commission hopes that these proposals [ending net neutrality] will spur broadband deployment throughout the country, bringing better, faster Internet service to more Americans and boosting competition and choice in the broadband marketplace” (https://www.fcc.gov/restoring-internet-freedom). The concept that certain aspects of society are present for the common good seems alien to the current FCC as does the fact that ‘the market’ cannot solve all problems or protect foundational rights.

If net neutrality is removed, many believe the openness and fairness of the internet will be chipped away at and that ‘fast lanes’ as well as ‘slow lanes’ will be created. It is though that internet providers will keep the ‘fast lanes’ for delivering their own content or will give access to the ‘fast lanes’ to the highest bidder, which would not be small businesses, entrepreneurs, the up-coming or individual citizens (http://money.cnn.com/2017/01/24/technology/fcc-net-neutrality/?iid=EL). It seems so tragically un-American to destroy the equal playing field that is net neutrality… and it is so very American to speak up about it.

The FCC has to and is accepting public comments on its intention to remove the net neutrality law. If you would like to comment here is how:

Go to www.fcc.gov/ecfs/filings/express and enter filing number 17-108 or type in Restoring Internet Freedom, in the Proceedings box, then fill in the form – you are the filer. Know that what you write will become part of the official government tome on this issue and can be viewed by the public; your address will be shown on the form the public can view.

If you would like a step by step on how to file a comment that shows pictures of the FCC page: https://techcrunch.com/2017/04/27/how-to-comment-on-the-fccs-proposal-to-revoke-net-neutrality/ – this site also gives you some thoughts on how to compose your comment

http://www.businessinsider.com/fcc-net-neutrality-rules-how-to-comment-instructions-photos-2017-5/#the-first-thing-you-need-to-do-is-find-the-filings-page-for-the-proposal-in-the-first-place-1 – this is another site on how to file

If leaving a comment with the FCC seems too daunting then you can sign a public letter at: http://act.freepress.net/sign/internet_nn_trump/?source=sti-menu


The undoing of a FCC regulation that protected your internet privacy….

The undoing of a FCC regulation that protected your internet privacy….

The Congressional Review Act was passed in 1996 and then Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, championed the Act. The Act allows Congress to review and repeal, via a simple majority, any new regulation within 60 legislative days from the date the regulation became effective (note that legislative days are the same as calendar days). If the President approves of Congress’ repeal of the regulation then with his (in theory her) signature the repeal becomes law. In addition the Act bars the federal agency whose regulation was repealed from writing a new regulation that is the same or similar to the repealed regulation. Since no President would pass a law undoing a regulation he (or she) had just created, this Act is only of import during the beginning days of a new administration, specifically when the same party controls the presidency and majorities in both branches of Congress. It is of note that this Act has only been used once before; it was used by Republicans to repeal an ergonomics regulation created  under the Clinton administration. One final tidbit is that laws created via this Act are termed a “joint resolution of disapproval”. Sources: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/02/03/the-obscure-law-allowing-congress-to-undo-obama-regulations-on-guns-and-coal-in-a-matter-of-days/?utm_term=.c93e40b6404f; https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/30/us/politics/congressional-review-act-obama-regulations.html?_r=0.

Senate Joint Resolution 34 (S. J. Res 34) is one such law. Specifically it repealed a regulation the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) put forth in late 2016 to protect the privacy of people’s personal information left on/gathered through the internet (https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-joint-resolution/34). Before looking further into this new law, a quick word on the FCC – the FCC is the regulatory agency that oversees all radio, television, wire, satellite and cable communications conducted within the US as well as between the US and other countries (https://www.fcc.gov/about-fcc/what-we-do). In addition to the FCC, the US also has the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which in a nutshell is focused on ensuring good business practices (https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc). Knowing the difference between the FCC and the FTC is central to understanding what this law undid.

The FTC regulates the businesses that you interact with on-line be it through websites, apps, social media, etc… while the FCC is the one in charge with regulating all aspects, including the personal content those businesses gather, of your communications. Or at least that is how it once worked – those who supported S. J. Res 34 have argued that the FTC is sufficient in protecting a consumer’s privacy but opponents of the new law argue this is akin to the fox guarding the hen house as the sale of personal data is lucrative and that is exactly what this new law allows. It is now permissible for every single thing you do through the internet – everywhere you go (most apps, think the weather app, your map app, not to mention social media apps, around me, ride share services, etc… have location devices), everything you look at, including the content of what you are looking at (yes it is even possible that your medical information is included in this) and much more – to be gathered and sold. The data that this FCC regulation would have protected is not big data – big data is aggregated data and does not you’re your identifying information attached to it. Sources: http://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-internet-privacy-20170330-story.html; https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/03/congress-debates-reversing-course-decades-consumer-privacy-protections; http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/technology/327848-your-private-information-is-not-for-sale; http://pppfocus.com/2017/04/09/sj-res-34-to-be-signed-by-trump-ends-internet-privacy-guidelines/; https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2017/03/we-have-24-hours-save-online-privacy-rules.

Another way to understand the new law of the land in terms of internet privacy is to review the FCC regulation that has been undone. A brief review of the regulation can be found at: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/12/02/2016-28006/protecting-the-privacy-of-customers-of-broadband-and-other-telecommunications-services and the entire regulation can be located at: https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-16-39A1_Rcd.pdf. The opening points of this now repealed FCC regulation are quite poignant and highlight what has been lost:

“The intersection of privacy and technology is not new. In 1890, Samuel Warren and Louis Brandeis inaugurated the modern age of privacy protection when they warned that “numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that ‘what is whispered in the closet should be proclaimed from the house-tops.’” The new technology they had in mind? The portable camera.

In this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM or Notice), we propose to apply the traditional privacy requirements of the Communications Act to the most significant communications technology of today: broadband Internet access service (BIAS). This is important because both consumers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) would benefit from additional, concrete guidance explaining the privacy responsibilities created by the Communications Act.

To that end, our approach can be simply stated: First, consumers must be able to protect their privacy, which requires transparency, choice, and data security. Second, ISPs are the most important and extensive conduits of consumer information and thus have access to very sensitive and very personal information that could threaten a person’s financial security, reveal embarrassing or even harmful details of medical history, or disclose to prying eyes the intimate details of interests, physical presence, or fears. But, third, the current federal privacy regime, including the important leadership of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Administration efforts to protect consumer privacy, does not now comprehensively apply the traditional principles of privacy protection to these 21st Century telecommunications services provided by broadband networks. That is a gap that must be closed, and this NPRM proposes a way to do so by securing what Congress has commanded – the ability of every telecommunications user to protect his or her privacy.

Privacy protects important personal interests. Not just freedom from identity theft, financial loss, or other economic harms but also from concerns that intimate, personal details could become grist for the mills of public embarrassment or harassment or the basis for opaque, but harmful judgments, including discrimination. The power of modern broadband networks is that they allow consumers to reach from their homes (or cars or sidewalks) to the whole wide world instantaneously. The accompanying concern is that those broadband networks can now follow the activities of every subscriber who surfs the web, sends an email or text, or even walks down a street carrying a mobile device. Absent legally-binding principles, those networks have the commercial motivation to use and share extensive and personal information about their customers. The protection of privacy thus both protects individuals and encourages use of broadband networks, by building trust.

Today, as the FTC has explained, ISPs are “in a position to develop highly detailed and comprehensive profiles of their customers – and to do so in a manner that may be completely invisible.” This is particularly true because a consumer, once signed up for a broadband service, simply cannot avoid that network in the same manner as a consumer can instantaneously (and without penalty) switch search engines (including to ones that provide extra privacy protections), surf among competing websites, and select among diverse applications. Indeed, the whole purpose of the customer-provider relationship is that the network becomes an essential means of communications with destinations chosen by the customer; which means that, absent use of encryption, the broadband network has the technical capacity to monitor traffic transmitted between the consumer and each destination, including its content. Although the ability to monitor such traffic is not limitless, it is ubiquitous. Even when traffic is encrypted, the provider has access to, for example, what websites a customer has visited, how long and during what hours of the day the customer visited various websites, the customer’s location, and what mobile device the customer used to access those websites. Providers of BIAS (“broadband providers”) thus have the ability to capture a breadth of data that an individual streaming video provider, search engine or even e-commerce site simply does not. And they have control of a great deal of data that must be protected against data breaches. To those who say that broadband providers and edge providers must be treated the same, this NPR M proposes rules that recognize that broadband networks are not, in fact, the same as edge providers in all relevant respects. But this NPRM looks to learnings from the FTC and other privacy regimes to provide complementary guidance. ” (https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-16-39A1_Rcd.pdf).