Thursday, December 14, 2017

FCC votes to reverse Network Neutrality "common carrier" rules, as expected; many experts don't trust companies to remain benign (as the libertarians do)

Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted, 3-2, along party lines, to repeal “Network Neutrality” with Ajit Pai’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order”.  There was a brief security threat at the meeting, according to some sources. 

One particularly strident essay on Vox by Aja Romano (Vox usually is not this far to the Left) argues that ISP’s might offer only packages with other content providers who have paid them (like cable works) and offer only the general Internet for exorbitant prices (over $100 a month, which a lot of ordinary people cannot afford; they’d have to go to the library, where, as in Reid Ewing’s 2012 short film, “It’s Free”).  I think it works that way in Portugal now.   A company like Comcast could, with a straight face (no pun) claim it will not block websites (as it has already) but charge so much for full service that most ordinary users would never find them. On the other hand, most Internet customers today have all-Internet access and would expect to continue it.  Keeping enough competition (and anti-trust) matters.  Remember also that smartphone wifi Internet (despite the "competition" of apps) is pretty good now and approaches that of most cable. There is more competition in mobile web access than in cable and traditional sites.  Google is always pointing this out. 
While I don’t think that will really happen (litigation, for one reason), I can see that if it did, it would force bloggers back onto free service platforms.  Small businesses could no longer afford their own hosted websites.  Franchises would have more power to force small businesses to sign up with them.  But, again, this sounds pretty far-fetched.  It didn’t happen before 2015, or even before 2005.  I do have to note, however, how pimpy the attitude is of many large companies in some of the interviews I had ten years ago.

I want to take a moment to note, however, that the conceptual differentiation between a flat website (accessed by http or preferably https) as small businesses often set them up (often with Wordpress), and an application (as downloaded on a smartphone and inviting to telecom companies as building packages) could become more important in the years to come.  Since I came into using the Web with http in the 1990s, I’m used to hunting for information myself with Google on flat sites and ordinary blogs, and not depending on social media and apps.  A certain cohort of younger people seem less interested in looking things up for themselves, as we found out from the vulnerability to fake news manipulation in 2016.  This could affect the attitude of telecom companies in a less regulated environment.

The Wall Street Journal offers this video on what might happen, which covers the gamut.   Here’s more analysis from the WSJ, rather temperate. 

Eric Allen Been interviews Barbara can Schewick on Vox, and her comments are guarded.  She just feels you have to regulate companies who otherwise feel tempted to follow the perverse logic of fiduciary responsibility to shareholders. 
The New York Times columnist  Nick Firsch fears that big telecom companies will crack down on “amateur” publishers in the US to enhance their opportunities to do business I China.  I hadn’t quite heard that one, but I got repeated questions in 2013 if I wanted to register my domain in China. I did not.  But some companies don’t like to work with stakeholders who could hut them when they deal with authoritarian countries.
You can look at FTFF’s mock content here.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Without net neutrality, telecom companies could impose mandatory website safety ratings and https on content providers; would it happen?

Here’s a “Dangerous” idea that Milo Yiannopoulos would come up. If network neutrality regulations are removed, one possible action by a telecom company could be to offer security screening of all sites that it connects to and sends to customers.

That’s a bit of a problem because most anti-virus companies take a long time to rate all sites, especially smaller ones.  Some will not rate the small sites at all (they remain gray).  Many rate sites inaccurately.

A possible action could be to warn the user before going to any unscreened site.  That sounds like what could be down the road eventually. 

Another possibility is that bloggers who attach purchased domain names to “free service” blogs (through Google’s own domain registration for Blogger) would remove the domain names and go back to the subdomains, which allows https to be easier.

Another possibility is that only sites with full https would connect.  Right now that’s a problem, say, on BlueHost because only one site on an account can be https. 

The video above from the  Wall Street Journal is old but it mentions this case of Verizon’s blocking text messages regarding abortion in 2007, although the details are a little nuanced than the video says, Washington Post archive.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Cato Institute and Wisconsin Public Radio discuss end of net neutrality

Julian Sanchez at Wisconsin Public Radio discusses the rollback of Network Neutrality on this 30-minute podcast, hosted on the Cato site.

Yes, the broadcast does begin with blunt questions as to whether telecom companies really would charge content providers to be connected, but then varies.

There is some disagreement as to whether the regulatory environment rolls back to 2015, or all the way back to before 2005.

There is also mention of a case where a Canadian telecom company cut off its union’s website.
The general impression is that very little would happen in practice that affects most consumers.  

Monday, December 04, 2017

Tech legal experts see little change in actual telecom company behavior after Pai's net neutrality vote Dec 14, as litigation starts

Gizmodo has a detailed article on what might happen after Dec. 14’s 3-2 Republican vote favoring Ajit Pai’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Order”.   Here’s the Scribd PDF of Pai’s order, all 200 pages of it. Practical results will include a lot of litigation, likely to reach the appeals courts, the Supreme Court less likely. It sounds unlikely anything much would happen with consumers and speakers during the first Trump term.

Yet, Comcast, according to an Ars Technica report, scaled back some of its informal promise to consumers, deleting some language the same day Pai announced the vote.
And telecom companies don’t tell their shareholders the same thing they tell the public.


This story will be followed, and likely developed in more detail on Wordpress after the vote. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

FCC votes on ending Obama's net neutrality rules and "telecomm" legal classification on Dec. 14

While at the airport this morning, I got an email from “Fight for the Future” advising that the Net Neutrality vote will occur December 14, 2017 at the FCC.  The group’s basic link is here

The link has the usual talk of ISP’s cutting off websites that don’t pay them off, and the like.
I generally don’t join telethons to flood Congress, because when it reaches that stage it’s too late. The hyperbole rarely works with me.

But I’ll do another round of investigating what is really likely to happen.

FRFF gives Bloomberg’s speculative article, but there is a lot more to say. it   It does seem true that the FTC would have less power than the FCC to enforce actions against possible abuse because the FTC can’t make policy;  it has to follow Congress. 

Ajit Pai has also won a vote to cut back a Reagan-era plan to help the destitute with phone service, ThinkProgress report here

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Pai stays on as FCC Chairman, even as controversy over his policies on ending net neutrality continues

The Senate has approved Trump’s request to extend Ajit Pai’s term as chairman of the FCC, which otherwise would have ended in 2017.

Jon Brodkin has a detailed story (Oct. 2) in Ars Technica here.
Pai has been criticized for rolling back information transparency on services for lower income and rural consumers.  Pai’s critics still fear that reducing net neutrality rules could some day result in making it harder for small businesses to be connected to the web, even though industry trade groups deny that this would happen

Saturday, October 28, 2017

House Energy and Commerce Committee starts hearings on FCC oversight

I’m checking to see what Congress, specifically, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is hearing on the network neutrality issue.

There was to be a hearing Sept. 7 which was postponed.

I see a hearing on Oct. 11 about the overhaul of the Communications Act of 1934 (link ) and a 3 hour hearing Oct. 25 on oversight of the FCC, with Ajit Pai testifying heavily.

At 29, Mr. Pallone from NJ makes a broadbased remark about Trump’s desire to repeal network neutrality, followed by Mr. McNerey.  

At 1:58 Pai is asked about possible license recovation based on Trump’s comments on fake news. Pai says he stands by the First Amendment. Pai stood by the idea that the FCC cannot revoke a particular license based on content. There is a question as to a “culture of intimidation” based on silence from the FCC.  At around 2:30  Pai talks about diversity in the FCC and also talks about the need to improve medical response technology through broadband (which theoretically might have violated Obama net neutrality). 

I didn’t see any obvious talk about the past fears that publishers could have to pay off telecom companies to be connected, but I’ll check further into what this committee is doing in other hearings.

I did get an email Oct. 25 from “FightfortheFuture” and here is that group’s account . This seems overhyped and not very objective, and I usually don’t “pound Congress” with calls on special issues, because there are so many of them!  But I will keep an eye on this.