As the Federal Communications Commission nears a fateful decision on network neutrality, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Y2K all over again.
You may remember Dec. 31, 1999. That’s the last time the Internet was expected to die, because millions of computers were going to crash when their internal clocks failed to turn over to the year 2000. I sat in the Globe’s newsroom, waiting for the end. Nothing happened. It was quite a letdown.
Now here comes another “apocalypse.” On Dec 14, the FCC is expected to abandon the Obama administration’s policy on so-called Net neutrality, in which the government forces Internet providers to treat all data equally. Activists say it’s the end of the Internet as we know it, with giant Internet providers like Comcast and AT&T free to block or slow down access to key online services unless they’re paid extra to let the data flow.
But I’m betting hardly anything will change. Not the day after Dec. 14, the month after, or the year after.
I’m as subject to panic as the next guy, but I can’t see much reason to freak out over the supposed death of Net neutrality.
I’m on board with the principle that Internet carriers should not be allowed to block certain Internet services or deliberately slow them down to make them less accessible. Many activists go further and reject “paid prioritization,” or giving superior “fast lane” service to consumers willing to pay extra.
Serious breaches of Net neutrality are pretty hard to find. An activist group called Free Press published a “greatest hits” list of alleged violations. They found 12. Oops . . . make that 10. In two decades of widespread Internet use in America, they couldn’t find even a dozen significant violations, so Free Press padded the list with two cases from outside the United States. Even the remaining 10 are questionable cases that may have been driven by network security or traffic management disputes, rather than by efforts to stamp out rivals.
Still, the Net neutrality lobby, which includes massive users of Internet services such as Google and Netflix, wanted tougher regulatory protection. They got it in 2015, when the FCC decided to regulate the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
Some called it a life preserver for Internet freedom; I call it regulatory overkill on a massive scale. Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a staunch supporter of the Title II approach, warned in 2015 that a portion of the plan “sounds like a recipe for overreach and confusion.” Read the rest of this entry »
We should undo the Obama administration’s rules that regulate the web like a 1930s utility.
Ajit Pai writes: As millions flocked to the web for the first time in the 1990s, President Clinton and a Republican Congress decided “to preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet.” In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the government called for an internet “unfettered by Federal or State regulation.” The result of that fateful decision was the greatest free-market success story in history.
Here’s my plan to repeal the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed regulation of the Internet. This time–unlike in 2015–you can read it before the @FCC votes. https://t.co/xcPDkxPgW7 https://t.co/wnshqlJoMa pic.twitter.com/wACDCspuEP
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) November 22, 2017
Encouraged by light-touch regulation, private companies invested over $1.5 trillion in nearly two decades to build out American communications networks. Without having to ask anyone’s pemission, innovators everywhere used the internet’s open platform to start companies that have transformed how billions of people live and work.
But that changed in 2014. Just days after a poor midterm election result, President Obama publicly pressured the Federal Communications Commission to reject the longstanding consensus on a market-based approach to the internet. He instead urged the agency to impose upon internet service providers a creaky regulatory framework called “Title II,” which was designed in the 1930s to tame the Ma Bell telephone monopoly. A few months later, the FCC followed President Obama’s instructions on a party-line vote. I voted “no,” but the agency’s majority chose micromanagement over markets.
This burdensome regulation has failed consumers and businesses alike. In the two years after the FCC’s decision, broadband network investment dropped more than 5.6%—the first time a decline has happened outside of a recession. If the current rules are left in place, millions of Americans who are on the wrong side of the digital divide would have to wait years to get more broadband.
The effect has been particularly serious for smaller internet service providers. They don’t have the time, money or lawyers to cut through a thicket of complex rules. The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, which represents small fixed wireless companies that generally operate in rural America, found that more than 80% of its members “incurred additional expense in complying with the Title II rules, had delayed or reduced network expansion, had delayed or reduced services and had allocated budget to comply with the rules.” They aren’t alone. Other small companies have told the FCC that these regulations have forced them to cancel, delay or curtail upgrades to their fiber networks.
The uncertainty surrounding the FCC’s onerous rules has also slowed the introduction of new services. One major company reported that … (read more)
FCC Head Ajit Pai: Killing Net Neutrality Will Set the Internet Free
Promises that “we’re going to see an explosion in the kinds of connectivity and the depth of that connectivity” like never before.
Nick Gillespie & Ian Keyser report: Todd Krainin, ReasonIn an exclusive interview today just hours after announcing his plan to repeal “Net Neutrality” rules governing the actions of Internet-service providers (ISPs) and mobile carriers, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has an in-your-face prediction for his critics: “Over the coming years, we’re going to see an explosion in the kinds of connectivity and the depth of that connectivity,” he said this afternoon. “Ultimately that means that the human capital in the United States that’s currently on the shelf—the people who don’t have digital opportunity—will become participants in the digital economy.”
Pai stressed that regulating the Internet under a Title II framework originally created in the 1930s had led to less investment in infrastructure and a slower rate of innovation. “Since the dawn of the commercial internet, ISPs have been investing as much as they can in networks in order to upgrade their facilities and to compete with each other,” he says. “Outside of a recession we’ve never seen that sort of investment go down year over year. But we did in 2015, after these regulations were adopted.” In a Wall Street Journal column published today, Pai says Title II was responsible for a nearly 6 percent decline in broadband network investment as ISPs saw compliance costs rise and the regulatory atmosphere become uncertain. In his interview with Reason, Pai stressed that the real losers under Net Neutrality were people living in rural areas and low-income Americans who were stuck on the bad end of “the digital divide.”
Proponents of Net Neutrality maintain that rules that went into effect in 2015 are the only thing standing between rapacious businesses such as Comcast, Verizon (where Pai once worked), and Spectrum and an Internet choking on throttled traffic, expensive “fast lanes,” and completely blocked sites that displease whatever corporate entity controls the last mile of fiber into your home or business. Pai says that is bunk and noted that today’s proposed changes, which are expected to pass full FCC review in mid-December, return the Internet to the light-touch regulatory regime that governed it from the mid-1990s until 2015.
“It’s telling that the first investigations that the prior FCC initiated under these so-called Net Neutrality rules were involving free data offerings,” says Pai, pointing toward actions initiated by his predecessor against “zero-rating” services such as T-Mobile’s Binge program, which didn’t count data used to stream Netflix, Spotify, and a host of other services against a customer’s monthly data allowance. “To me it’s just absurd to say that the government should stand in the way of consumers who want to get, and companies that want to provide, free data.”
The FCC is not completely evacuating its oversight role. ISPs, he says, will need to be completely transparent with customers about all practices related to prioritizing traffic, data caps, and more. Pai believes that market competition for customers will prove far more effective in developing better and cheaper services than regulators deciding what is best for the sector. “In wireless,” he says, “there’s very intense competition—you have four national carriers and any number of regional carriers competing to provide 4G LTE, and a number of different services. In those marketplaces where there’s not as much competition as we’d like to see, to me at least, the solution isn’t to preemptively regulate as if it were a monopoly, as if we’re dealing with ‘Ma Bell,’ but to promote more competition.” Read the rest of this entry »
Professor of Law at Columbia University Law School Philip Hamburger discusses the rise of the administrative state and what, if anything, can be done to reduce its power.
“The administrative state is the leading threat to civil liberties of our era,” says Philip Hamburger, the Maurice and Hilda Friedman Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and author of the recent books, Is Administrative Law Unlawful? (2015) and The Administrative Threat (2017).
“We have a system of government in which our laws are made by the folks that we elect, and these laws are enforced by judges and juries in the courts, but we have within that an administrative state, a state that acts really by mere command and not through law.” Hamburger argues that by reducing the role of elected officials to set policy, the administrative state, which has grown rapidly since World War II, disempowers blacks, women, and other minorities who have only recently gained full voting rights and political power.
Before he left the Trump administration, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon famously vowed to “deconstruct” the administrative state—the collection of bureaucrats, agencies, and unelected rule-making bodies who decrees and diktats govern more and more of our lives. And many of the president’s picks at places such as the FCC, the FDA, the EPA, and the Department of Education seem to be doing just that: cutting regulations and policies that come not directly from Congress but from administrators who decide, say, that the FCC has the ability to regulate the internet as a public utility, and that so-called net neutrality is a good idea. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Barone writes: The knee jerk response of many liberals to political attacks seems to be to suppress such speech. Examples abound. Michigan Rep. Gary Peters, running for the Senate, threatens the broadcast licenses of stations that run adscriticizing him. Over at salon.com Fred Jerome imagines what it would be like to nationalize — have the government take over — Fox News. And of course evidence continues to accumulate that high Internal Revenue Service officials denied approval to conservative groups in order to suppress political speech.
Then there’s the Federal Communications Commission‘s “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs”–put on hold Friday. The FCC was going to query TV station and newspaper
writers about their “coverage choices.” As my Washington Examiner colleague Byron York explains, this “study” was the project of Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, daughter of Rep. James Clyburn, and it was scheduled to be rolled out first in Columbia, S.C. — which just happens to be the Clyburns’ hometown. Read the rest of this entry »
[VIDEO] Meet the Department of the Internet! We’ll be Handling the Internet You Love, but at the Speed of GovernmentPosted: February 24, 2015
Meet the Department of the Internet! We’ll be handling the Internet you love, but at the speed of government. https://t.co/xDIjKdpete
— Dept. Of Internet (@Dept_Internet) February 23, 2015
— The Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) February 24, 2015
“He stated he is aware it is against government rules and regulations, but he often does not have enough work to do and has free time.”
For the Washington Times, Jim McElhatton reports: For one Federal Communications Commission worker, his porn habit at work was easy to explain: Things were slow, he told investigators, so he perused it “out of boredom” — for up to eight hours each week.
…In other news, the CIA is spying on the Senate, the president is assassinating American citizens, our governors are ungovernable, our cops are criminals, our corruption investigations are corrupt, our anti-crime programs are criminal enterprises, the IRS agents charged with keeping nonprofits from turning into fronts for crass and illegal political campaigns have turned the agency into a front for a crass and illegal political campaign, our Border Patrol agents are engaged in human trafficking . . .
But let’s talk about porn…(read more)
Lack of work has emerged time and again in federal investigations, and it’s not just porn, nor is it confined to the FCC. Across government, employees caught wasting time at work say they simply didn’t have enough work to do, according to investigation records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
“while I was pleased with several of Comcast-NBC’s voluntary public interest commitments, more can be done to achieve our diversity objectives.”
For Variety, Ted Johnson reports: Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and 51 other lawmakers, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus, are pressing the FCC to ensure that upcoming mergers include “enforceable commitments” to boost media ownership, programming, advertising and other opportunities for women and minorities.
“In similar ‘mega-merger’ transactions in recent years, companies have attempted to demonstrate their ‘good corporate citizenship’ by identifying past philanthropic donations they have made to various charitable organizations and promising additional such donations.”
The letter cited the proposed mergers of Time Warner Cable and Comcast, and of AT&T and DirecTV, as well as “the imminent announcement” of Sprint’s merger with T-Mobile. The FCC’s merger reviews examine whether the transactions are in the public interest. Read the rest of this entry »
In a joint letter Wednesday, some 150 companies told the Federal Communications Commission its proposed rules over net neutrality would permit phone and cable firms to discriminate “both technically and financially” against companies providing online services.
“Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization,” they said.
They said the regulations “should make the market for Internet services more transparent” and warned that fair rules “are essential for the future of the Internet.”
The letter challenged the FCC’s proposed rules on how Internet service providers — mainly a handful of telecommunications giants who control the transmission of data via cable and airwaves — can negotiate individual deals over access levels, speed and priority with online companies rather than keeping access completely neutral. Read the rest of this entry »
Glenn Harlan Reynolds: Americans Rising Up Against Government: Three Examples of Pushback Against the Ruling ClassPosted: February 24, 2014
America’s ruling class has been experiencing more pushback than usual lately. It just might be a harbinger of things to come.
“This is more ‘Irish Democracy,’ passive resistance to government overreach.”
Many local police departments already use license-plate readers that track every car as it passes traffic signals or pole-mounted cameras. Specially equipped police cars even track cars parked on the street or even in driveways.
The DHS put out a bid request for a system that would have gone national, letting the federal government track millions of people’s comings and goings just as it tracks data about every phone call we make. But the proposal was suddenly withdrawn last week, with the unconvincing explanation that it was all a mistake. I’m inclined to agree with TechDirt‘s Tim Cushing, who wrote: “The most plausible explanation is that someone up top at the DHS or ICE suddenly realized that publicly calling for bids on a nationwide surveillance system while nationwide surveillance systems are being hotly debated was … a horrible idea.”
[Order Reynold’s book “The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself” from Amazon]
On Friday, after more public outrage, the Federal Communications Commission withdrew a plan to “monitor” news coverage at not only broadcast stations, but also at print publications that the FCC has no authority to regulate. The “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN (pronounced “sin”) involved the FCC sending people to question reporters and editors about why they chose to run particular stories. Many folks in and out of the media found it Orwellian…
- Tennessee Law School Professor: (will) Americans ever resist the increasing encroachments on their freedom? (therionorteline.com)
- Americans rising up against government: Column shows that … (teapartyradical.squarespace.com)
- Law professor: Americans are rising up against government (fellowshipoftheminds.com)
- Americans rising up against government: Column (usatoday.com)
- “Irish Democracy” is Alive and Well and Living in America!: Instapundit (reason.com)
- Americans are beginning to rise up against government (gopthedailydose.com)
- USA Today: Americans Rising Up Against Obama Government Is Just Beginning (patdollard.com)
- Americans rising up against government: Column (grumpyelder.com)
- DHS Cancels Plan For National License Plate Tracking System (wchildblog.com)
Intrusive media survey idea was doomed from the start
News Dump: Any surprise this withdrawal is announced on Friday, the customary day to bury unfavorable announcements? This Stalinist-progressive cuckoo-bananas Obama-era idea had no hope of lasting more than 48 hours in the spotlight before being abandoned, buried, disowned. Or is coming back? Do they really plan to ‘tweak’ it, revise it, reintroduce it quietly? Good luck with that.
In the meantime, the administration can enjoy a media transition that worked in their favor: the installation of a new asset on NBC.
The Federal Communications Commission has pulled the plug on its plan to conduct an intrusive probe of newsrooms as part of a “Critical Information Needs” survey of local media markets.
However, a revised version of the survey could raise new concerns: that it will trade its now-kiboshed news questions for a demographic survey that might justify new race-based media ownership rulemaking.
“[I]n the course of FCC review and public comment, concerns were raised that some of the questions may not have been appropriate,” the FCC announced in a statement Friday. “Chairman [Tom] Wheeler agreed that survey questions in the study directed toward media outlet managers, news directors, and reporters overstepped the bounds of what is required. Last week, Chairman Wheeler informed lawmakers that that Commission has no intention of regulating political or other speech of journalists or broadcasters and would be modifying the draft study. Yesterday, the Chairman directed that those questions be removed entirely.”
The Critical Information Needs (CIN) survey has been a slow-burning controversy since ever since this reporter first revealed its existence in October 2013.
First Amendment supporters objected that the design of the survey would have had FCC representatives interrogating newsroom staffers about how they make coverage decisions and select (or spike) story ideas. Many commentators objected to the potential intimidation involved in such a survey.
The original plan of the survey would also have taken the FCC out of its traditional purview of regulating supposedly scarce airwaves. Because the CIN sought to discover “underserved” consumers in a variety of “media ecologies,” the survey would have included not only broadcast media but newspapers, blogs and online news.
However, there have been consistent doubts that the survey was ever going to happen. In a December followup article I found that none of the major broadcast, print or online media in Columbia, South Carolina – the market selected for the Critical Information Needs pilot study – had heard from either the FCC or Silver Spring, Maryland-based Social Solutions International (SSI) the FCC’s contractor on the project.
The American Center for Law and Justice‘s Matthew Clark reports: The Obama Administration’s Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is poised to place government monitors in newsrooms across the country in an absurdly draconian attempt to intimidate and control the media.
Peter Doocy reports from Washington, D.C.
Before you dismiss this assertion as utterly preposterous (we all know how that turned out when the Tea Party complained that it was being targeted by the IRS), this bombshell of an accusation comes from an actual FCC Commissioner.
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai reveals a brand new Obama Administration program that he fears could be used in “pressuring media organizations into covering certain stories.”
As Commissioner Pai explains in the Wall Street Journal:
Last May the FCC proposed an initiative to thrust the federal government into newsrooms across the country. With its “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs,” or CIN, the agency plans to send researchers to grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run. A field test in Columbia, S.C., is scheduled to begin this spring.
The purpose of the CIN, according to the FCC, is to ferret out information from television and radio broadcasters about “the process by which stories are selected” and how often stations cover “critical information needs,” along with “perceived station bias” and “perceived responsiveness to underserved populations.”
In fact, the FCC is now expanding the bounds of regulatory powers to include newspapers, which it has absolutely no authority over, in its new government monitoring program.
Not on welfare or below the poverty line? Never mind — here’s your free phone.
Confession: You’re paying my phone bill.
In the past month, I have received three shiny new cell phones, courtesy of American taxpayers, that should never have fallen into my hands.
The Federal Communications Commission oversees the so-called Lifeline program, created in 1984 to make sure impoverished Americans had telephone service available to call their moms, bosses, and 911. In 2008, the FCC expanded the program to offer subsidized cell-phone service, and since then, the expenses of running the program have soared. In 2012, the program’s costs had risen to $2.189 billion, up from $822 million before wireless carriers were included. As of June, there were 13.8 million active Lifeline subscriptions.
To be eligible for Lifeline, the applicant is supposed to be receiving some significant government benefit — food stamps, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, public housing assistance, etc. But because welfare eligibility has expanded under the Obama administration, more people than ever before are qualified to receive “free” cell-phone service — part of the reason why Lifeline mobiles have become commonly known as Obamaphones. Alternatively, applicants can qualify if their household income is less than 136 percent of the federal poverty line.
But as with any federal program with too much funding, too little oversight, and perverse financial incentives, Lifeline has become infamous for rampant fraud and abuse. There have been news reports about recipients flaunting dozens of subsidized phones. And in February, the Wall Street Journal reported on an FCC audit of the top five Lifeline providers, which found that “41% of their more than six million subscribers either couldn’t demonstrate their eligibility or didn’t respond to requests for certification.”
The FCC supposedly buckled down on eligibility standards last year and established other safeguards aimed at reducing fraud. I was curious about how tough it was to get one of these phones, so last month, I hit the streets of New York. And out of respect for the law and my journalistic integrity, I did not lie to obtain a phone.
BY BERIN SZOKA, MATTHEW STARR, AND JON HENKE
Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives / Flickr
Despite public, political, and business interest in greater broadband deployment, not every American has high-speed internet access yet (let alone a choice of provider for really fast, high-capacity service). So who’s really to blame for strangling broadband competition?
While popular arguments focus on supposed “monopolists“ such as big cable companies, it’s government that’s really to blame. Companies can make life harder for their competitors, but stranglingthe competition takes government.
Broadband policy discussions usually revolve around the U.S. government’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC), yet it’s really our local governments and public utilities that impose the most significant barriers to entry.
Game of Kickbacks
Deploying broadband infrastructure isn’t as simple as merely laying wires underground: that’s the easy part. The hard part — and the reason it often doesn’t happen — is the pre-deployment barriers, which local governments and public utilities make unnecessarily expensive and difficult.
Before building out new networks, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must negotiate with local governments for access to publicly owned “rights of way” so they can place their wires above and below both public and private property. ISPs also need “pole attachment” contracts with public utilities so they can rent space on utility poles for above-ground wires, or in ducts and conduits for wires laid underground.
The problem? Local governments and their public utilities charge ISPs far more than these things actually cost. For example, rights of way and pole attachments fees can double the cost of network construction.
So the real bottleneck isn’t incumbent providers of broadband, but incumbent providers of rights-of-way. These incumbents — the real monopolists — also have the final say on whether an ISP can build a network. They determine what hoops an ISP must jump through to get approval.
This reduces the number of potential competitors who can profitably deploy service — such as AT&T’s U-Verse, Google Fiber, and Verizon FiOS. The lack of competition makes it easier for local governments and utilities to charge more for rights of way and pole attachments.
It’s a vicious circle. And it’s essentially a system of forced kickbacks. Other kickbacks arguably include municipal requirements for ISPs such as building out service where it isn’t demanded, donatingequipment, and delivering free broadband to government buildings.
So What About Google Fiber?
But the story changes when ISPs have enough leverage.
In Kansas City and Austin, local governments wanted Google Fiber more than they wanted kickbacks. So they expedited the permitting process, gave Google rights-of-way access for little to no cost, andallowed Google to build-out selectively — i.e., in neighborhoods where consumers actually expressed demand.