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GLOBAL PANIC: Like Y2K, the Net Neutrality Crisis is Way Overhyped

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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.

An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.

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 »

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Ajit Pai : How the FCC Can Save the Open Internet

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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.

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.

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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)

Source: WSJ.com

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Todd Krainin, Reason

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.

& 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 »


Net Neutrality Supporters Want to ‘Ban Drudge’

Advocates for ‘free and open Internet’ picket outside FCC.

Alt-left advocates for net neutrality, who say they want a “free and open internet,” want to ban the Drudge Report.

 reports: Alt-left advocates for net neutrality, who say they want a “free and open internet,” want to ban the Drudge Report.

Members of the alt-left who have been tied to violent protests in the past picketed outside the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday in protest of Chairman Ajit Pai‘s proposal to reverse net neutrality rules. The FCC will vote to undue the Obama era Title II rule that classified Internet service providers as utilities, subjecting them to more federal regulation.

Protesters covering their faces held signs that read “Ban Drudge,” with a no symbol over the Drudge Report, the highly trafficked news website run by Matt Drudge. Other protesters held signs to ban other news websites, including Breitbart and InfoWars. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: Why He’s Rejecting Net Neutrality 

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans today to roll back net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015.

The FCC currently regulates Internet service providers (ISPs) under Title II regulations that essentially treat the internet as a public utility similar to the old phone monopoly. Proponents of net neutrality and the invocation of Title II regulations say that such oversight is necessary to ensure that the Internet remains “open” and ISPs don’t block sites or degrade offerings by rivals. Long a critic of Title II regulations, which were invoked after the FCC lost two court battles to regulate the Internet, Pai describes them as “a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations that were developed in the Great Depression to handle Ma Bell.”

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Scrapping these rules, Pai told Reason’s Nick Gillespie, won’t harm consumers or the public interest because there was no reason for them in the first place. The rationales were mere “phantoms that were conjured up by people who wanted the FCC for political reasons to overregulate the internet,” Pai told Gillespie. “We were not living in a digital dystopia in the years leading up to 2015.”

If left in place, however, the Title II rules could harm the commercial internet, which Pai described as “one of the most incredible free market innovations in history.”

“Companies like Google and Facebook and Netflix became household names precisely because we didn’t have the government micromanaging how the internet would operate,” said Pai, who noted that the Clinton-era decision not to regulate the Internet like a phone utility or a broadcast network was one of the most important factors in the rise of our new economy. Read the rest of this entry »


Trump Names New FCC Chairman: Ajit Pai

A telecommunications lawyer who has served on the FCC since May 2012, Pai is a free-market advocate who has been critical of new regulations adopted by Democrats in recent years.

President Trump on Monday  designated Ajit Pai, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission and an outspoken opponent of new net neutrality rules, to be the agency’s new chairman.

“I look forward to working with the new administration, my colleagues at the commission, members of Congress, and the American public to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans.”

Pai, 44, would take over for Tom Wheeler, a Democrat who stepped down on Friday. Wheeler’s term had not expired but Trump gets to designate a new chairman as Republicans gain the FCC majority.

“We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation.”

“I look forward to working with the new administration, my colleagues at the commission, members of Congress, and the American public to bring the benefits of the digital age to all Americans” Pai said.

A telecommunications lawyer who has served on the FCC since May 2012, Pai is a free-market advocate who has been sharply critical of new regulations adopted by Democrats in recent years.

He takes the chairman’s office amid reports that Trump’s advisors want to scale back the FCC’s authority.

“We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation,” Pai said in a speech last month looking ahead to Republican control of the FCC.

Pai, whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from India, was associate general counsel of Verizon Communications Inc. from 2001-03 before working as a staffer at the U.S. Senate, the Justice Department and the FCC.

He sprinkles his speeches with pop-culture references and is adept at social media. During the net neutrality debate, he tweeted a photo of himself with the 332-page proposal and lamented that FCC rules didn’t allow him to make it public. Pai has pushed for FCC proposals to be released before commissioners vote on them.

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a Georgetown University law professor and longtime consumer advocate, said Pai would be a “formidable opponent” for public interest groups. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Pokémon Go versus the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules…in 60 Seconds 

With its “T-Mobile Tuesdays” promotion, T-Mobile is giving customers free data for Pokémon Go. But does that defy net neutrality? AEI Visiting Fellow Roslyn Layton describes how the FCC’s rules impact zero-rating—the practice of giving away free data for certain applications.

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The Biggest Threat to U.S. Internet Companies Now

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These U.S. regulations stall innovation.

Christopher S. Yoo writes:The decade-long debate over network neutrality reached a moment of truth earlier this month when a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., heard oral arguments in the judicial challenge to the open Internet rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in February. Admittedly, the questions that judges ask often provide little guidance as to what they will eventually decide. But both proponents and opponents of network neutrality agree that the FCC had a tough day.

The court focused attention on three aspects of the FCC’s order. First, the judges questioned the agency’s authority to regulate the handling of traffic within fixed-line networks, such as cable modem or DSL systems. Second, they challenged the propriety of the rules mandating network neutrality within wireless networks. Third, they scrutinized the rules governing interconnection, which is how networks exchange traffic with each other.

The judges seemed to challenge the agency hard on the second and third issues, the ones regarding mobile networks and interconnection. Their primary concern focused on certain last-minute changes to the order. Specifically, the judges questioned whether the public was given proper notice of those changes and whether the changes were properly integrated into the overall regulatory scheme. The FCC fared the best on the first issue, but even then it faced tough questions about why the scheme differed so much from the way the rules were initially proposed. Read the rest of this entry »


The End of the Internet Dream?

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In 20 years, the Web might complete its shift from liberator to oppressor. It’s up to us to prevent that.

Earlier this month Jennifer Granick was the keynote speaker at Black Hat 2015. This is a modified version of the speech she delivered. A video of the speech is also available.

Jennifer Stisa Granick1*1a9jKrvPw4_bJRN-nafmWw writes: Twenty years ago I attended my first Def Con. I believed in a free, open, reliable, interoperable Internet: a place where anyone can say anything, and anyone who wants to hear it can listen and respond. I believed in the Hacker Ethic: that information should be freely accessible and that computer technology was going to make the world a better place. I wanted to be a part of making these dreams — the Dream of Internet Freedom — come true. As an attorney, I wanted to protect hackers and coders from the predations of law so that they could do this important work. Many of the people in this room have spent their lives doing that work.

“What does it mean for companies to know everything about us, and for computer algorithms to make life and death decisions? Should we worry more about another terrorist attack in New York, or the ability of journalists and human rights workers around the world to keep working? How much free speech does a free society really need?”

For better or for worse, we’ve prioritized things like security, online civility, user interface, and intellectual property interests above freedom and openness. The Internet is less open and more centralized. It’s more regulated. And increasingly it’s less global, and more divided. These trends: centralization, regulation, and globalization are accelerating. And they will define the future of our communications network, unless something dramatic changes.

Twenty years from now,

• You won’t necessarily know anything about the decisions that affect your rights, like whether you get a loan, a job, or if a car runs over you. Things will get decided by data-crunching computer algorithms and no human will really be able to understand why.

• The Internet will become a lot more like TV and a lot less like the global conversation we envisioned 20 years ago.

• Rather than being overturned, existing power structures will be reinforced and replicated, and this will be particularly true for security.

•Internet technology design increasingly facilitates rather than defeats censorship and control.

It doesn’t have to be this way. But to change course, we need to ask some hard questions and make some difficult decisions.

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What does it mean for companies to know everything about us, and for computer algorithms to make life and death decisions? Should we worry more about another terrorist attack in New York, or the ability of journalists and human rights workers around the world to keep working? How much free speech does a free society really need?

[Read the full text here, at Medium]

How can we stop being afraid and start being sensible about risk? Technology has evolved into a Golden Age for Surveillance. Can technology now establish a balance of power between governments and the governed that would guard against social and political oppression? Given that decisions by private companies define individual rights and security, how can we act on that understanding in a way that protects the public interest and doesn’t squelch innovation? Whose responsibility is digital security? What is the future of the Dream of Internet Freedom?

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For me, the Dream of Internet Freedom started in 1984 with Steven Levy’s book “Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution.” Levy told the story of old school coders and engineers who believed that all information should be freely accessible. They imagined that computers would empower people to make our own decisions about what was right and wrong. Empowering people depended on the design principle of decentralization. Decentralization was built into the very DNA of the early Internet, smart endpoints, but dumb pipes, that would carry whatever brilliant glories the human mind and heart could create to whomever wanted to listen. Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] George Gilder: Net Neutrality Is a ‘Ludicrous’ Idea That Will Shrink the Economy

“Everything on [the Internet] is changing minute by minute,” says George Gilder, “and the idea of establishing a level playing field, as if all bandwidth is homogeneous, is just ludicrous.”

 


Mattel’s New ‘Eavesdropping’ WiFi Barbie Arouses Privacy Concerns, ‘Seriously Creepy’

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The Doll records children’s speech with an embedded microphone and sends it over the web

An advocacy group protested on Wednesday a so-called “eavesdropping” Barbie, which records creepy-barbiechildren’s speech and sends that data over the Web.

Calling the Barbie “creepy,” Camapign for a Commercial-Free Childhood launched a petition Wednesday urging the doll’s maker, Mattel to stop the doll from being sold, the Washington Post reports.

The Doll records children’s speech with an embedded microphone and sends it over the web, which leaves kids vulnerable to stealth advertising tactics, the group said.

[See more in the Washington Post]

Chief executive Oren Jacob of ToyTalk, the San Francisco-based startup that created the technology in the doll, told the Journal that the captured audio files is “never used for anything to do with marketing or publicity or any of that stuff. Not at all.” Instead, the technology is used to improve speech recognition, Jacob said.

Children press a button to chat with Hello Barbie, which “listens” to their speech and sends the audio recording over a WiFi connection to ToyTalk’s cloud-based servers, where that speech is recognized and processed. The Barbie can then make a response….(read more)

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“Eavesdropping Barbie” could easily lead to more troubling edtions of the popular toy. Next: ‘Serial Killer Barbie”?

TIME


John Fund: Comrades for Net Neutrality

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The powers behind the FCC’s muscling of the Internet

John FundJohn_Fund_via_National_Review writes: Today’s vote by a bitterly divided Federal Communications Commission that the Internet should be regulated as a public utility is the culmination of a decade-long battle by the Left. Using money from George Soros and liberal foundations that totaled at least $196 million, radical activists finally succeeded in ramming through “net neutrality,” or the idea that all data should be transmitted equally over the Internet. The final push involved unprecedented political pressure exerted by the Obama White House on FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, head of an ostensibly independent regulatory body.

“At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”

— Robert McChesney, at the website SocialistProject in 2009

“Net neutrality’s goal is to empower the federal government to ration and apportion Internet bandwidth as it sees fit, and to thereby control the Internet’s content,” says Phil Kerpen, an anti-net-neutrality activist from the group American Commitment.

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“Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism.”

— Robert McChesney, in an interview with the Marxist magazine Monthly Review

The courts have previously ruled the FCC’s efforts to impose “net neutrality” out of bounds, so the battle isn’t over. But for now, the FCC has granted itself enormous power to micromanage the largely unrestrained Internet.

[read the full text of John Fund‘s article here, at National Review]

Back in the 1990s, the Clinton administration teamed up with Internet pioneers to promote a hands-off approach to the new industry and keep it free from discriminatory taxation. Many still prefer that policy. Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab and the charity One Laptop Per Child, says that net neutrality “doesn’t make sense” because “the truth is, not all bits [of data] are created equal.”

“To cast things in neo-Marxist terms that they could appreciate, they want to take control of the information means of production.”

— Adam Therier of the blog TechLiberation

Will Marshall, head of the Progressive Policy Institute (which was once a favorite think tank of Clinton Democrats), issued a statement that net neutrality “endorses a backward-looking policy that would apply the brakes to the most dynamic sector of America’s economy.”

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But such voices have been drowned out by left-wing activists who want to manage the Internet to achieve their political objectives. The most influential of these congregate around the deceptively named Free Press, a liberal lobby co-founded in 2002 by Robert McChesney, a University of Illinois communications professor.

“In essence, what McChesney and his followers want is an Unfree Press — a media world that promotes their values.”

His goals have always been clear. “At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies,” he told the website SocialistProject in 2009. “But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.” Earlier in 2000, he told the Marxist magazine Monthly Review: “Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism.” When I interviewed him in 2010, he admitted he is a socialist and said he was “hesitant to say I’m not a Marxist.”

“Back in the 1990s, the Clinton administration teamed up with Internet pioneers to promote a hands-off approach to the new industry and keep it free from discriminatory taxation. Many still prefer that policy.”

In essence, what McChesney and his followers want is an Unfree Press — a media world that promotes their values. “To cast things in neo-Marxist terms that they could appreciate, they want to take control of the information means of production,” says Adam Therier of the blog TechLiberation.

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Certainly McChesney seems blind to the dangers of media control on the left. In 2007, he co-authored a remarkable survey of the media under Hugo Chávez’s already clearly thuggish regime in Venezuela: “Aggressive, unqualified political dissent is alive and well in the Venezuelan mainstream media, in a manner few other democratic nations have ever known, including our own.” Read the rest of this entry »


Expanding Government Overreach: FCC Approves Internet Regulation, Setting Stage For Taxation, Censorship, Legal Battles

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Government promises net will be ‘neutral’, just like the Affordable Care Act’s promise to make health care ‘affordable’. Public excluded from process in advance of vote. Telecom, cable industries expected to challenge.

Thomas Gryta reports: The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to regulate Internet service like a public utility, expanding the U.S. government’s big-brother-halfoversight of a once lightly regulated business at the center of the country’s commercial and social activity.

The 3-2 vote, along party lines, starts the clock ticking on an expected legal challenge from the telecom and cable industries.

The move marks a turn in the government’s approach to the Internet—from a hands off policy dating back two decades to encourage the Web’s growth to a more interventionist posture as commercial issues have multiplied.

It was spurred on by companies—such as Netflix Inc. —worried that they could face more onerous terms for carrying their traffic and by President Barack Obama , who made an unusual public plea for the rules late last year. The new regulations were strongly opposed by carriers such as Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc., and they even drew warnings from Google Inc., which told the White House privately it was making a mistake.

The rules prohibit Internet service providers from blocking Web traffic or charging websites for priority service. They also extend the FCC’s reach into the middle of the Internet by saying the commission will review so-called interconnection deals between companies such as Netflix and Comcast Corp. on a case-by-case basis to make sure they are reasonable.

Despite all the wrestling over legal principle, little is likely to change for consumers in the near term. Carriers very rarely block any traffic, and experiments like letting Web companies pay for toll-free mobile service haven’t gone very far. But advocates said the rules will preserve the open environment that has helped Web companies blossom.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who revealed details of the new rules earlier this month, received a standing ovation when he entered the commission room ahead of the vote.

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Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak , who attended the meeting, said from the sidelines that broadband providers need to be more closely regulated.

“Broadband is essential, like water,” Mr. Wozniak said.

Regulate us more, please, regulate us, rule makers!

Regulate us more, please, regulate us, rule makers!

Verizon, in a statement typed on a Remington typewriter and datelined Feb. 26, 1934, harking back to the Communications Act passed that year, criticized the rules as antiquated and likely to create uncertainty that will hurt innovation. The new rules involve reclassifying broadband service as a telecom service regulated by Title II of the Act, which governs the more highly regulated phone business.

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Mr. Wheeler reiterated Thursday that the commission is only doing so to establish regulatory authority to enforce net neutrality and it won’t impose more onerous regulations such as price controls.

The full FCC order will be available on the commission’s website within the next few weeks and will take effect 60 days after being published in the Federal Register. Read the rest of this entry »


PUNKED: Posters Around DC Call FCC Chairman ‘Boot Licker,’ ‘Obama’s Bitch’

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[VIDEO] Hillary’s Call for Regulating Internet: ‘It’s a Foot in the Door’

“For the FCC to do what they want to do, to try to create net neutrality as the norm, they have to have a hook to hang it on,” Clinton said. She said it’s the only hook the FCC’s got. But that’d she’d vote for regulating the Internet.

“It’s a foot in the door, it’s a value statement, I think the president is right to be upfront and out front on that.”

And despite her husband’s administration not taking such action, Clinton suggested the Internet had devoloped in such a way that something needed to be changed…..(read more)

The Weekly Standard


Matt Drudge: ‘May the Democrats Burn in Hell for Opening the Doors to Endless Internet regulation. I Mean Really Burn.’

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Senator Obama: ‘Irresponsible’ For FCC To Vote On Rules Unreleased To The Public


The White House Emails at the Center of Washington’s Brewing Net Neutrality Storm

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Jason Leopold writes: Republican lawmakers are not pleased with the FCC‘s proposed new open Internet rules — set to be publicly released next Thursday — that call for aggressively regulating broadband providers like a utility. And they want to know how the FCC came up with them.

Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, will chair a hearing Wednesday about whether the White House improperly influenced the independent agency and pressured its chairman, Tom Wheeler, to develop a net neutrality plan that mirrored recommendations President Barack Obama made last November. Obama had called on the FCC to classify broadband as a public utility and adopt open internet rules that would ensure that “neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.”

“There’s more than enough smoke here to warrant a further investigation. I think the FCC has to answer in totality what sort of interaction they had with the White House. If there’s nothing to hide, then provide all of those emails unredacted.”

The congressional hearing was initiated after Chaffetz reviewed heavily redacted emails and other documents VICE News obtained from the FCC two weeks ago in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request; the emails show White House officials and Wheeler communicating about net neutrality. VICE News sought comment from Chaffetz’s office about the email exchanges and shared the documents with him.

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[Net Neutrality emails reveal a cozy social network between the FCC and telecoms. Read more here]

Wheeler unveiled details of the FCC’s new net neutrality guidelines in an op-ed published in Wired earlier this month. His decision to classify broadband as a utility surprised net neutrality advocates who believed Wheeler, a former lobbyist for telecom firms, would adopt the draft proposal the FCC approved last May that would have authorized broadband providers to create “fast lanes” for content companies willing to pay for the service.

[Read the full text of Jason Leopold‘s article here, at VICE News]

Chaffetz’s suspicions about the White House’s influence over the FCC’s decision is based on a February 4 Wall Street Journal report that alleged two senior White House officials, David Edelman and Tom Power, held dozens of secret meetings with “online activists, Web startups, and traditional telecommunications companies” in an effort to build a case for net neutrality.

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After the Journal story was published, Chaffetz and Senate Homeland Security Chairman Ron Johnson sent letters to Wheeler requesting a wide-range of documents including visitor logs and emails, and set a February 23 deadline for the FCC to produce the records.

“I am concerned that undue outside pressure may have led you to this decision,” Johnson wrote in his letter to Wheeler. “In particular, my concern is the apparent pressure exerted on you and your agency by the White House.”

“The White House is not an ‘agency.’ Does the FCC run emails from congresspeople or citizens outside of government by them before processing them for FOIA? I don’t think so. I think in this case they gave the White House a political privilege.”

— Nate Jones, a FOIA expert at George Washington University’s National Security Archive

The emails VICE News obtained from the FCC show that as far back as last May, when Wheeler released the FCC’s draft net neutrality proposal, Edelman, Power, and other White House officials were communicating with Wheeler and his senior staff about the plan. However, the emails are so heavily redacted that its unknown what was discussed or whether it rises to the level of “undue” influence. (The FCC cited a privacy exemption and the deliberative process privilege, which protects “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters” from disclosure, as the reasons for blacking out the emails.)

Since last year, the FCC has turned over to VICE News thousands of pages of heavily redacted records, It has withheld thousands of pages more about the agency’s internal discussions related to net neutrality.

DigitalDC

In a letter dated February 9 included with the batch of White House emails, Kirk Burgee, the chief of staff for the Wireline Competition Bureau, one of seven FCC bureaus that advises the commission on policy related to wireline telecommunications, said the emails were redacted at the behest of the White House.

Although we have not completed the consultation process with the Department of State, we have completed the consultation process with NTIA [National Telecommunications and Information Administration] and the White House. As a result of that consultation, we are releasing an email exchange among Larry Strickling (Associate Administrator of NTIA), Tom Power (Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), White House), Ross David Edelman (OSTP), and Chairman Wheeler. These records have been redacted pursuant to FOIA exemptions 5 and 6 which are consistent with those recommended by NTIA and the White House. We are also releasing an email exchange between Tom Power and Chairman Wheeler (which includes an email exchange among FCC staff and Chairman Wheeler) and an email exchange between John Podesta and Chairman Wheeler (which includes an email exchange among Jeffrey Zients (Executive Office of the President (EOP), White House), Jason Furman (EOP, White House), and Tom Power). These documents also include redactions under Exemptions 5 and 6 consistent with those recommended by the White House.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 13: In this handout from the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama talks on the phone while in the Oval Office with British Prime Minister David Cameron on February 13, 2012 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

(Photo by Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

Burgee’s letter footnoted two documents to justify the redactions: a January 29 email sent by associate White House counsel Nicholas McQuaid to Joanne Wall at the FCC’s office of general counsel; and a December 31, 2014 letter from Kathy D. Smith, chief counsel, NTIA, US Department of Commerce, to Elizabeth Lyle, the FCC’s assistant general counsel.

The FCC disclosed a copy of the letter Lyle signed and sent to McQuaid asking for guidance on whether any of the emails at issue should be released to VICE News and, if so, what should be redacted. The FCC also released an identical letter the agency sent to NTIA requesting redactions to documents.

Protesters from the Anonymous India group of hackers wear Guy Fawkes masks as they protest against laws they say gives the government control over censorship of internet usage in Mumbai

An FCC spokesman told VICE News the Justice Department’s FOIA guidance, which “the Commission strictly adheres to,” “makes clear that the Commission should not unilaterally decide to release records that involve other agencies. Consistent with the guidance, the FCC always consults with other agencies on the sensitivity of a document before determining whether to disclose it.”

Nate Jones, a FOIA expert at George Washington University’s National Security Archive, said the FCC spokesperson’s interpretation of the federal FOIA guidelines is a “bit off.” Read the rest of this entry »


[VIDEO] Obama’s Internet Regulations

“The FCC has now rolled out its initial plan, it’s 332 pages. Although when I say rolled out, that word has to be used lightly, because you and I are not allowed to read those 332 pages. They literally have a book, this is how we are going to regulate the internet, and by the way, no one gets to read it. One FCC commissioner held up the book and said ‘I guess you got to pass it to find out what’s in it,’ echoing Nancy Pelosi,” Cruz says in a statement.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) leaves the floor of the Senate after a testy exchange with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) at the start of legislative business, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2013.

“If the FCC turns the Internet into a regulated public utility, the innovation, the creativity that has characterized the Internet from its dawn, will inevitably be stifled. Now Title II by the way, gives all sorts of authority to regulate pricing and terms of service, and one of the implications if the Internet is regulated under Title II is 11 billion dollars a year in new taxes… Think about whether 11 billion dollars a year on the Internet is a good thing or a bad thing.

Obama Big brother

“Now here’s where the FCC says, ‘no don’t worry, we won’t collect those taxes, we’re going to exercise forbearance,’ I don’t know if you’ve heard the ancient fable about the frog who gives the scorpion a ride across the river, and half way across the river the scorpion stabs the frog and they both sink under the water and as they’re going under, the frog says, ‘why, now we both will die’, and the scorpion tells the frog, ‘because it is my nature.’ I promise you, it is the nature of the government regulators, if they have it, they will use it, 100 percent of the time, it will grow, the taxes will come.

The Weekly Standard


FCC Internet Regulation Scheme: ‘Saddles Small, Independent Businesses and Entrepreneurs with Heavy-Handed Regulations that will Push them Out of the Market’

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Giuseppe Macri reports: Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai on Friday raised the first of many criticisms to come about FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s aggressive net neutrality plan distributed to commissioners Thursday, which Pai described as “President Obama’s 332-page plan to regulate the Internet.”

“Courts have twice thrown out the FCC’s attempts at Internet regulation. There’s no reason to think that the third time will be the charm. Even a cursory look at the plan reveals glaring legal flaws that are sure to mire the agency in the muck of litigation for a long, long time.”

In a statement released Friday, Pai lamented the fact that the 332-page plan, which he tweeted a picture of himself holding next to a picture of Obama, won’t be released to the public until after the commission votes on its implementation later this month.

“President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet. It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works,” Pai said. “The plan explicitly opens the door to billions of dollars in new taxes on broadband… These new taxes will mean higher prices for consumers and more hidden fees that they have to pay.”

PALO ALTO, CA -JULY 12: Power line towers are shown July 12, 2002 in Palo Alto, California. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission boosted the maximum price of electricity from $55.26 per megawatt hour to $91.87 in the wake of record-breaking temperatures for the week, including 112 degrees in Redding, California today. One megawatt is enough to power about 750 homes. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

In his initial cursory overview of the plan, the commissioner said it would hinder broadband investment, slow network speed and expansion, limit outgrowth to rural areas of the country and reduce Internet service provider (ISP) competition.

“The plan saddles small, independent businesses and entrepreneurs with heavy-handed regulations that will push them out of the market,” Pai said. “As a result, Americans will have fewer broadband choices. This is no accident. Title II was designed to regulate a monopoly. If we impose that model on a vibrant broadband marketplace, a highly regulated monopoly is what we’ll get.”

In an op-ed detailing the core aspects of his net neutrality plan published earlier this week, Wheeler described lumping ISPs under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act — which based its authority on that used to regulate telephone monopolies at the dawn of the communication age — as the cornerstone. Read the rest of this entry »


House to Probe White House Role in FCC’s ‘Net Neutrality’ Proposal

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Panel to Investigate Whether White House Improperly Influenced Agency on Broadband Rules

WASHINGTON — Gautham Nagesh and Siobhan Hughes report: A House oversight committee on Friday said it was launching an investigation into whether the White House improperly influenced the Federal Communications Commission on its new rules for how broadband providers treat traffic on their networks.

“The White House needs to get its hands off the FCC.”

— Rep. Fred Upton

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R., Utah), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on Friday demanding all documents and communications between the FCC and the White House or other executive-branch agencies on the issue, along with all internal discussion at the FCC.

Mr. Wheeler on Wednesday made public the outlines of a proposal that would ban broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, or speeding up certain websites in exchange for payment.

The plan would use strong utility-like rules to regulate broadband companies, an approach largely in line with President Barack Obama ’s call in November for the “strongest possible rules” to protect net neutrality—the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

To implement those rules, Mr. Wheeler proposed reclassifying broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a more strictly overseen telecommunications service. Advocates of such an approach say that without such rules, broadband companies could charge tolls to websites for their fastest speeds, putting startups and smaller websites at a disadvantage.

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Mr. Wheeler had previously laid out proposals to his fellow commissioners that wouldn’t have used the public-utility route. Then Mr. Obama made his statement in November, one of a series of events outlined in a Wall Street Journal article Thursday that appeared to leave Mr. Wheeler little choice but to go with the stronger rules.

“[R]eports indicate that views expressed by the White House potentially had an improper influence on the development of the draft Open Internet Order circulated internally at the Commission on February 5, 2015,” Mr. Chaffetz wrote.

Neither the White House nor the FCC responded to requests for comment.

Earlier on Friday, FCC Special Counsel Gigi Sohn rejected the notion that the president’s statement forced Mr. Wheeler’s hand.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler

“I think what the president’s statement did was rather than force the chairman’s hand was give him cover to do something that he already was thinking about doing,” Ms. Sohn said during an interview on C-Span.

In his letter, Mr. Chaffetz said he is particularly interested in “how the FCC communicated with the White House and other Executive Branch agencies.”

He also requested a briefing on the issue within two weeks. The commission plans to vote on the proposal Feb. 26. Read the rest of this entry »


Washington Breaks the Internet

DigitalDC

Musicians and Kardashians may claim they can break the Internet by posting alluring photographs, but they have nothing on Tom Wheeler

The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission unveiled on Wednesday a plan to demolish a policy that for two decades has allowed the Internet to become the jewel of world-wide communication and commerce. His new “Open Internet” plan represents a monumental shift from open markets in favor of government control. It is a grave threat to American innovation.

digitalCzarz

“Mr. Wheeler is seeking to overturn Bill Clinton’s policy of allowing the Internet to grow as a lightly regulated “information service” because Mr. Wheeler does not want light regulation.” 

In a piece for Wired magazine, Mr. Wheeler announced that this week he will circulate to his fellow commissioners a plan to enact what President Obama demanded in November: century-old telephone regulation for today’s broadband communications companies.

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“In an acrobatic feat of Orwellian logic, Mr. Wheeler even implies that telephone-style regulation must come to the Net to prevent problems that existed in the old telephone network, such as the difficulty faced by entrepreneurs trying to deploy new communications devices.”

“This proposal is rooted in long-standing regulatory principles,” wrote Mr. Wheeler, and he’s right. The game plan is to apply to competitive digital networks rules originally written for monopoly railroads in the 1800s. But don’t worry, this “common carrier” regulatory structure was modernized for telephones as recently as the summer of 1934 when Franklin Roosevelt signed the Communications Act.

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“Mr. Wheeler may promise forbearance, but watch out, because that’s not how government works. The nature of bureaucracies is to grab power and expand it. Once the FCC assumes the authority to set “rates, terms and conditions” across the online economy, expect a political land rush.”

The Wheeler cover story is that such antiquated rules are necessary to provide “net neutrality,” the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally and not blocked from reaching consumers—in other words, to allow the Internet to function pretty much as it does now. Read the rest of this entry »


Robert M. McDowell: The Turning Point for Internet Freedom

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As regulators weigh imposing net neutrality on the Web, Congress tries to pre-empt government overreach

Robert M. McDowell writes: The Federal Communications Commission is about to answer the most important question in its 80-year history: Does the agency intend to protect the open Internet, or is it lunging to seize unlimited power over the Web? We’ll find out on Feb. 26 when the FCC votes on “net-neutrality” rules that would treat the Internet like a public utility, with regulators potentially setting rates, terms and conditions for providers.

Meanwhile, the new Congress is maneuvering to change the net-neutrality equation, with hearings in the House and Senate beginning Wednesday. Republicans circulated draft bills on Friday to pre-empt the obama_pc_computeFCC’s overreaching new rules while still attaining the White House’s ostensible policy goals. Even congressional supporters of net neutrality, wary of increasing FCC power over something as vast and crucial as the Internet, are working to draft an alternative.

While Republicans and Democrats try to work out a deal, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler should hit the pause button on next month’s vote and let the elected representatives of the American people try to find common ground. At the end of this constitutional process, all sides may be able to claim victory.

“For opponents of new FCC rules, the bills could take Title II off the table; restore regulatory certainty; protect free speech; and create a legal firewall that would protect investment and innovation in the Web’s computer-network infrastructures from more government meddling.”

For years Washington has debated how to keep the Internet open and free from government or private coercion. Regulation proponents have argued that new rules are needed to prevent Internet service providers, such as phone, wireless and cable companies, from blocking or degrading the online content or applications consumers want. Though no market failure exists, and regulators have never conducted a study to diagnose the alleged potential illness, the FCC has twice tried to impose new rules on the Web. Each time it lost in court.

“This would also send a strong signal to foreign governments and international regulatory bodies that they should not smother the Web with antiquated rules designed in an era when people held their phones with two hands.”

The tragedy of this debate is that no one, including phone, wireless and cable companies, has ever contested the goals of keeping the Internet open. It has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was privatized in the mid-1990s because it is protected under existing antitrust and consumer-protection laws. Instead, the fight has been over how much regulatory power the FCC should wield. Read the rest of this entry »


FCC Plans Stealth Internet Tax Increase

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Net neutrality isn’t something we want. It’s a threat to the Internet. It must die.

Some helpful links for those who don’t believe the graphic:

Read the rest of this entry »


‘Net Neutrality’ De Facto Already Exists, Without the Aid of Any Governmental Entity to Enforce it

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Why, then, is Government Enforcement Suddenly Necessary to Maintain the Status Quo?

At The Corner, Ian Tuttle writes:

….Writing at National Review Online in July, Tennessee congresswoman Marsha Blackburn and FCC commissioner Michael O’Rielly noted that “on the issue of net neutrality, the [FCC] has already conceded that there is no current harm to consumers . . . [and] bragged that the rules would be ‘prophylactic.’”

I am all for planning ahead, but basing sweeping government action on the argument that “while there is no problem currently, there could be in the future” is hardly persuasive. What couldn’t one justify by that logic?

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Now, it may eventually be the case that the complex Internet economy falls prey to quasi-monopolistic forces who abuse consumers, requiring some 21st-century trust-busting. But what is certainly the case is that the Internet has thrived in no small part because of the lack of regulation. A comparatively uninhibited market has tempered the excesses to which large companies may be inclined. Net-neutrality rules would substitute bureaucratic rigmarole for market forces, making those innovators about which the president is so enthusiastic beholden not to consumers, but to a five-person board of commissioners (and its bureaucratic labyrinth) and to the courts. Moreover, there is ample reason to believe that net-neutrality rules — like so much other government regulation — would have sprawling unforeseen consequences. What reason is there at this point to risk that?

Moreover, what government regulation of the Internet does exist is already proving to be a stranglehold on innovation. Writing in the July 15, 2013, issue of National Review, Hudson Institute scholar Christopher DeMuth pointed out the ill effects of the FCC’s allocation of wireless broadband:

The shortage of wireless broadband spectrum is certainly a severe problem. It is needlessly raising the costs and retarding the speed and quality of personal communications (Onionheadline: “Internet Collapses Under Sheer Weight of Baby Pictures”). Wireless providers such as Verizon and AT&T have been obliged to raise prices and reduce speeds selectively for heavy users of video and data applications, leading to charges of “discrimination” that the FCC has taken seriously. Read the rest of this entry »


In Joint letter to FCC 150 Tech Companies Press Government for Net Neutrality

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AFP reports: Google, Facebook, Amazon and other online giants warn that the Internet faces a “grave threat” if service providers are able to prioritize or restrict usage based on negotiated payments.

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 »