FCC Net Neutrality Backlash Begins

Community activists and government officials are firing back at the FCC over recent rule changes and an attempt by Chairman Ajit Pai to roll back the 2015 Open Internet Order.

How so? To start, the city of Seattle has passed an ordinance requiring that fixed-line Internet service providers in the region gain opt-in consent from customers before sharing their web browsing data. The only exceptions to the rule are if that information is necessary to provide a service that the customer has requested, or if a court or government entity has ordered disclosure.

The Seattle rule, which TechCrunch was the first to report, mimics a broadband privacy order passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler last year. However, that nationwide ruling was overturned in March by Congress in keeping with the new Republican FCC agenda of light-touch regulation under Chairman Pai. (See Welcome to the Wild West of Privacy and About That Broadband Privacy Vote.)

Opponents of the broadband privacy measure argue that it unfairly disadvantages ISPs against the likes of Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), which can collect web browsing data -- without explicit user permission -- for advertising use. But proponents, including Seattle CTO Michael Mattmiller, say that ISPs should be treated differently because they have a different relationship with consumers. The city of Seattle gains its authority to mandate privacy requirements through the franchising agreements it's signed with local service providers. If other cities choose to follow the same path, they'll be able to do so as long as there are similar franchise agreements in place.

But the fight over FCC reversals doesn't stop there. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the agency with a dozen fellow senators yesterday calling on Pai to preserve the Open Internet Order. In the letter, the senators ardently oppose Pai's preferred approach to net neutrality that calls for putting voluntary guidelines in place to govern ISP actions. The letter states that: "Voluntary guidelines do not provide the certainty needed to entrepreneurs, innovators, and anyone else with an idea that they can access potential viewers and customers, and still leaves the essential internet gatekeeper function in the hands of the few and powerful."

Given Democrats' lack of power at all levels of government, the letter is likely to have little official impact, but it could serve to rally consumer troops who turned out in force to support the idea of net neutrality when the Open Internet Order was under consideration in 2014 and 2015. The FCC is expected to approve a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) next week to look at next steps for repealing the order, although legally speaking, the issue will likely have to be resolved in Congress. (See Net Neutrality, Here We Go Again.)

And speaking of rallying the troops, comedian John Oliver once again took up the mantle of net neutrality protector in a segment over the weekend by calling on his audience to file comments with the FCC against a repeal of the Open Internet Order. More than 4 million comments weighed down the FCC website after Oliver raised the subject back in 2014, and he's hoping to provoke similar outrage and action now in 2017.

In a bizarre twist, the FCC announced that its comment system was overloaded after the Oliver rant, but the agency cited the cause as "multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDos)." The timing is suspect given that the attack reportedly occurred just after Oliver's segment aired. However, the FCC has explicitly stated that the server overload was not a result of anyone trying to file actual comments.

The current comment count -- both positive and negative -- regarding the FCC's NPRM stands at 555,972 in the last 30 days.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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brooks7 5/11/2017 | 10:55:26 PM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... @Jillagain,

That is the point.  The Cablecos have never throttled.  That is a lie.  The people who trottled were Cogent (and they admitted it publicly).  Try to keep up and get rid of the fake news.


JillAgain 5/11/2017 | 8:10:12 PM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... When there is a financial motivation, there will be those that find a way. AT&T and Verizon are each about $125 billion in revenue and have an ample number of smart people who can work on making the technical parts work for them. This will never revolve around people refusing to pay more.

Your argument also does not address what happens when say a Comcast On Demand is working agaist Netflix or Hulu on ratings. It doesn't matter what I pay, the corporate accounts will be held hostage and their customer experiences will be impacted based on the choices they make. We already saw cablecos throttling in the past.

They can also now tie to elements like the market data the Trump administration just allowed the carriers to collect and sell, without our permission. Without asking any consumers to pay more, they have the legal rights now to sell your data and give you better service, or you maintain privacy and get lesser service.

Net Neutrality needs to remain the law, and to be regulated to the extent the Internet remains free.
brooks7 5/11/2017 | 6:57:53 PM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... Kb,

Couple of points.  Title II (Light) has nothing to do with peering points so our debate about Net Neutrality has accomplished nothing on that front.

The escalation of this debate became controlled by John Oliver and his rant against Fast Lanes.  That created a view that having the ability to sell premium bandwidth was bad.  I am not sure if it will actually be bad or good.  What I am sure of is that the Telcos will never be able to implement such a plan.  Nobody is going to pay extra money without an SLA.  If Comcast has to support 10M SLAs they will be in dispute constantly.  There will be devices that measure the SLA constantly and report problems.  Without an SLA nobody is going to pay extra.  The whole thing is a non-starter and always has been.

If you ever parse through all the responses to the NPRM, those that basically say "you suck" are stupid and don't add to the debate.  And none of the other NPRMs (like the stuff that Duh! mentioned a couple of weeks ago) will get any attention.


KBode 5/11/2017 | 5:21:29 PM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... "The real problem is that we turned Net Neutrality into a hot button issue even when it didn't deserve it."

I think the problem is we turned net neutrality into a partisan issue. And I think some of that was done by ISP and policy folk to intentionally encourage that kind of infighting. By and large, net neutrality has broad, bipartisan support. As do the rules. (which again, really are pretty modest by emerging international standards).

Agree completely with your focus on competition, since net neutrality is just a symptom of the broader disease that is a lack of meaningful competition in too many markets. 

"Cogent was the problem with Netflix not any of the ISPs..."

There's some data in that New York AG lawsuit against Charter that does seem to confirm the narrative that peering points were allowed to intentionally congest to kill settlement-free peering and force Netflix's hand. I'm not sure that conversation is quite as settled as you suggest, though I know Cogent is never quite the innocent daisy in these matters it likes to insist it is. 
brooks7 5/11/2017 | 2:21:04 PM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... The real problem is that we turned Net Neutrality into a hot button issue even when it didn't deserve it.  As illustrious a publication as DSLReports has noted that Cogent was the problem with Netflix not any of the ISPs.  This means the entire dust-up that was precitpated by a notion that was not real.  So the change to Title II Light accomplished nothing.  A change away from it will accomplish nothing.  What we need to do is acknowledge that we are in a market that has problems with competition and regulate that market to get the behavior we want.  That behavior is:

1 - 100% Broadband Internet Access to all Americans (by some date)

2 - An increasing defintion of Broadband Internet (if its 25Mb/s today its 100Mb/s in 2020 for example).

3 - A reasonable pricing structure that gives the utilities a reasonable ROI and protects consumers.

4 - The ability to effectively subscribe to and utilize popular services without impediment (that defintion will change as well).

I think that satisfies the residential part of the deal.  We need to assume that there is not a lot of new competition that is going to exist on a national basis and regulate accordingly.  I would also argue for the elimation of the State PUCs as this is now a National Policy, but hey we can only ask for so much. 

The Business side of things is more complex and should be treated slightly differently.  There are more services involved and there is a different type of migration happening.  One thing that is not broadly discussed or argued for is the Climate/Energy aspect of remote/virtual workforces and that ought to be part of any business discusion.  Note, that Globalization impacts here as well (I know 5 person businesses that hire Virtual Assistants in Asia).


KBode 5/11/2017 | 10:35:50 AM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... That I agree with completely. We've got a lot of collective learning and growing to do. 
mendyk 5/11/2017 | 10:30:58 AM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... The old saw is we get the government we deserve. These are the consequences of our actions -- or inaction. The gap between haves and have-nots is wider than it's ever been, with no sign that it will do anything but widen further. In this context, the end of policies like net neutrality is not only predictable but also inevitable. For worse or better.
KBode 5/11/2017 | 10:18:18 AM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... No, not a surprise. Still not good. Pai has made it clear he wants to exclude wireless from net neutrality protections entirely (much like the FCC's flimsy 2010 rules did). And if we see a T-Mobile Sprint merger, competition in the space could be reduced, resulting in a spike in neutrality infractions (which, after all, are just a sympotom of not enough competition). 
mendyk 5/11/2017 | 9:50:00 AM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... So how does all this fit in with the current reality, in which Internet access is becoming mainly a mobile service as far as consumers are concerned, and operators are banging away at each other with unlimited* data plans? And as far as consumer protections go, I don't think it was any secret that the party elected to dominate the federal government (and most state houses) would put that in the top 100 priorities.
KBode 5/11/2017 | 9:37:19 AM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... Contrary to large ISP hysteria, net neutrality rules, crafted after 10 years of debate, WERE "reasoned, balanced policy." They were pretty basic. And ISP executives have candidly admitted (contrary to their bluster this week) that net neutrality rules didn't hamper investment (or much of anything else). They just want to be able to abuse the lack of last-mile competition:




What we're seeing now is a wholesale demolition of consumer protections under the debunked canard that letting AT&T, Verizon and Comcast dictate federal government internet policy magically creates telecom utipia. 

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