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The FCC Voted To Eliminate Net Neutrality

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The Federal Communications Commission has voted to deregulate the broadband industry and eliminate net neutrality rules that prohibit Internet service providers from blocking and throttling Internet traffic.

The repeal of net neutrality rules came about a year ago when Donald Trump won the presidency and appointed Republican Ajit Pai to the FCC chairmanship. Pai and Republican Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr provided the three votes necessary to overturn the net neutrality rules and the related “Title II” classification of broadband providers as common carriers.

Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel provided bitter dissents in today’s 3-2 vote. Despite the partisan divide in government, polls show that majorities of both Democratic and Republican voters supported the rules, and net neutrality supporters protested outside the FCC headquarters before the vote.

Home Internet providers and mobile carriers will not be held by strict net neutrality rules. ISPs will be allowed to block or throttle Internet traffic, or offer priority to websites and online services in exchange for payment.  The Federal Trade Commission could punish ISPs if they make promises and then break them, but there’s no requirement that the ISPs make the promises in the first place.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn addresses protesters outside the Federal Communication Commission building to rally against the end of net neutrality rules on December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. / FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn addresses protesters outside the Federal Communication Commission building to rally against the end of net neutrality rules on December 14, 2017 in Washington, DC.

 

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Net Neutrality & The Complicated Fuss

 

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What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers (ISPs) treat everyone’s data equally – whether that’s an email from your family member, a bank transfer or a streamed movie. Meaning that ISPs, which control the delivery , don’t get to choose which data is sent more quickly, and which sites get blocked or throttled (for example, slowing the delivery of a TV show because it is streamed by a video company that competes with a subsidiary of the ISP) and who has to pay extra. For this reason, some have described net neutrality as the “first amendment of the internet”.

Why is net neutrality under threat?

In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to more strictly regulate ISPs and to enshrine in law the principles of net neutrality. The vote reclassified wireless and fixed-line broadband service providers as title II “common carriers”, a public utility-type designation that gives the FCC the ability to set rates, open up access to competitors and more closely regulate the industry. Two years later, Trump’s new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has pushed to overturn the 2015 order arguing they overstep the FCC’s jurisdiction and hinder corporate innovation. On 18 May, the FCC voted to support a new proposal that would repeal the order and started a 90-day period in which members of the public could comment. A final vote is expected in December.

 

Trump To Nominate A Democrat For FCC

President Donald Trump plans to nominate Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel for another term on the Federal Communications Commission.

Rosenworcel had to leave the commission at the end of 2016 when the Republican-led US Senate refused to reconfirm her for a second five-year term. The departure of Rosenworcel and former Chairman Tom Wheeler left the FCC with just three out of the typical five members, with Republicans holding a 2-1 majority. Republican senators didn’t want Rosenworcel to stay on the FCC at the time because it would have resulted in a 2-2 deadlock. Commissioners are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. But no party can have more than a one-vote majority, so Trump has to nominate a Democrat and a Republican to fill the empty seats. When a president needs to nominate a commissioner from the opposing party, he takes suggestions from the opposing party’s leadership. Senate Democrats backed Rosenworcel for a return to the FCC, so Trump appears to be following longstanding tradition by nominating her.

Elimination Of Internet Privacy Rules

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The United States Senate is planning to start the process Today to eliminate rules that would prevent broadband internet providers from collecting sensitive data from subscribers. A vote is expected to take place on Thursday.

The expected vote was confirmed to International Business Times by a spokesperson for Florida Democratic Senator Bill Nelson, who will speak in opposition of the measure on Wednesday, and open internet advocacy group Public Knowledge.

FCC’s Privacy Rules

Senators Ask FCC To Investigate High Cable Prices

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Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have asked the Federal Communications Commission to investigate big cable and broadband providers for pushing consumers to pay “ridiculous prices” for services.

Addressed to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the senators wrote that due to a number of mega-mergers, only 37 percent of Americans “have more than one option for high-speed broadband providers.” The limited options means that companies are able “to charge ridiculous prices and add hidden fees. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Al Franken, D-Minn., also joined Sanders and Warren in writing the letter.

The FCC is required to keep track of how much telecommunications firms charge consumers, the senators requested that Wheeler hand over the information regarding how much Americans pay on average for Internet and cable services, including averages based on state and company. The senators also want to know how much urban Americans pay compared to rural Americans. Sanders said that “Currently, America ranks 25th worldwide for broadband speed, and we pay more for poorer quality broadband than customers in Slovakia Estonia, South Korea, and the U.K.”

The letter comes at a time when the FCC is considering the merger between Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications, which the senators say would only exacerbate the problem. Recent increases in the price of Time Warner services indicates that the company is already insulated from normal market pressures, the senators say. They cited Time Warner’s modem rental charges increasing by 203 percent since they were introduced in 2012.

FCC Set To Pass Rules For The Internet

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The Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to approve strong net neutrality rules this week, setting up an awkward hurdle for court battles

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, is determined to preserve an open online information highway and wants  to govern utilities like phone companies. Wheeler’s proposal is opposed by AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp. and other providers, which want as little government involvement as possible. It’s supported by the likes of video streamer Netflix Inc., which fear that without federal intervention, Internet service providers could pick winners and losers by manipulating how traffic flows over their networks.

Wheeler, a Democrat, is expected to prevail on Feb. 26 at the agency, where his party is in the majority. The vote would move the issue from the political stage, with 4 million people writing to the FCC and President Barack Obama calling for strong rules, to the judicial arena.

Kevin Werbach, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and a former FCC official says “Both sides will tell you it’s a legal slam dunk and “I don’t think it’s a slam dunk for either side.”

In 2002, during the administration of President George W. Bush, the FCC concluded that Internet service delivered by cable companies was an information service — a legal description allowing only light regulation. Wheeler wants to reverse that decision by deeming broadband a telecommunications service under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, which establishes a set of rules for utility telecommunications services.

Wheeler says the FCC isn’t seeking to regulate the prices broadband providers charge, as it does with phone companies. He does want to keep the providers from charging some Web companies extra for so-called fast lanes and to forbid blocking or interfering with subscribers’ Internet traffic.

His strategy of reclassifying the service providers stems from a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington last year that voided FCC open-Internet rules. Judges said the agency improperly treated Verizon Communications Inc. as if it were a utility — something the FCC couldn’t do because of its 2002 ruling. By formally classifying Internet service as a utility now, Wheeler hopes to shore up the legal foundation that the court found to be lacking.

Harold Feld, vice president of the policy group Public Knowledge, which supports Wheeler’s proposal, said he’s optimistic the agency will prevail in court even though it is reversing itself.

The argument revolves around which of two legal terms best describes the Internet.Telecommunications service refers to transmitting data without changing its form or content. An information service has the ability to generate, store and change information. Apps and websites are examples of information services, according to the group Free Press, an advocate of strong net neutrality rules.

Broadband services fall squarely within the definition of information services, just as they did in 2002, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, a trade group, told the FCC in a filing. Broadband providers retrieve and process information, performing functions such as caching content and detecting malware, the group said.

According to Feld, broadband subscribers simply use the providers as conduits to reach independent information providers of their choice. Cable companies, which have sought higher fees from high-volume users such as Netflix, are expected to join a lawsuit seeking to overturn the rules.

“It’s just too dramatic” a change from earlier rules, said Michael Powell, who as Republican FCC chairman led the agency to its 2002 decision. Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, spoke in an interview on C-SPAN television.

Werbach, the law professor, said the FCC’s expected action guarantees a strong legal challenge.

Another possible challenge to the FCC action: mobile carriers have said they would sue to overturn rules that subject wireless networks to the utility-style powers. They’ve argued Congress specifically exempted mobile from utility-style regulation. Wireless networks needs to be regulated in part because they carry 55 percent of Internet usage, Wheeler said in a Feb. 9 speech. The FCC takes comfort from a victory before the U.S. Supreme Court, which in 2005 upheld the agency’s decision on cable Internet service.The justices said the FCC has discretion to interpret the law, Gigi Sohn, the FCC’s special counsel for external affairs, said in an interview on the C-SPAN television network.

 

 

FCC Plans To Vote On Net Neutrality

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to introduce proposed Net neutrality regulations in February.

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission  said that federal regulators intend to place restrictions on how Internet providers manage their Web traffic. They plan to vote on new guidelines in February. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler intends to introduce the proposed regulations in February for a vote the same month, a spokeswoman for the commission confirmed, following an initial report from The Washington Post. The agency’s monthly meeting is scheduled for February 26.

The proposal is at the center of a debate around the concept of Net neutrality. That notion holds that all online traffic should be treated the same by Internet-access providers, with no sites or services being given preferential treatment.

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