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Regulation

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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Duh! 5/10/2017 | 12:53:53 PM
...and the sky is blue... and the sun rises in the East and things fall when you drop them.

You have to credit Pai with chutzpah. It will get more amusing when it comes time to write an Order. Somehow, they're going to have to find a rationale for dismissing millions of public comments.
mendyk 5/10/2017 | 12:59:46 PM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... Blame Obama. Blame Clinton. If that doesn't work, blame Obama. And Tom Wheeler, for not remembering that things that are done can be undone.
KBode 5/11/2017 | 7:28:17 AM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... Wheeler wouldn't have had to use FCC process if we had a Congress that functioned. The state and federal legislatures quite literally let AT&T and Comcast write laws. There's about a .03% chance that any net neutrality legislation winding through the Senate would be useful in any capacity.


Also, Pai doesn't HAVE to gut the rules, you know. 
KBode 5/11/2017 | 7:28:54 AM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... Yes, good luck to Pai in trying to convince the courts that the market changed substantially enough in two years to warrant a wholesale obliteration of consumer protections. 
mendyk 5/11/2017 | 9:22:38 AM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... There are many sides to the net neutrality issue. Policy-making should reflect the complexity, rather than default to a single viewpoint or agenda. Given the current toxic political climate -- with ill winds blowing in all directions -- it's hard to see how we get to reasoned, balanced policy.
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:

 

https://www.techdirt.com/blog/netneutrality/articles/20170508/07573137315/fcc-is-using-garbage-lobbyist-data-to-defend-assault-net-neutrality.shtml

 

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. 

 
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 | 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 | 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 | 10:35:50 AM
Re: ...and the sky is blue... That I agree with completely. We've got a lot of collective learning and growing to do. 
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