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Arbitrary enforcement killed 2012-drafted rules in January

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit pleased telecoms and riled internet content creators when it shot down U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chief (FCC) for a second straight time.  But the ruling was not without its silver lining for the FCC and net neutrality advocates.
 
I. FCC Chief Says New Blueprint is Coming
 
Unlike the 2008 ruling, the court was able to more carefully scrutinize the FCC's policy and justification.  As a result, this time around and it actually delivered some good news for the FCC. 
 
According to Circuit Judges David S. Tatel, who wrote the majority opinion for the three judge panel, the FCC was empowered to enforce some form of net neutrality as Congress granted the FCC enforcement powers to create a "vibrant and competitive free market" (47 U.S.C. § 230 Chapter 5, Subchapter II, created by The Communications Act of 1934 [PDF], modified by the Telecommunications Act of 1996).  The outcome was the same as the first case only because the appeals court felt the FCC's rules treated carriers themselves in arbitrary and discriminatory way, choosing only some of the time to enforce its rules.
 
In the wake of that ruling, new FCC Chairman Thomas ("Tom") Wheeler has spent the last few weeks pondering his board's course of action.  Rather than appeal the ruling (one of the options on the table) he announced at a University of Colorado Law School speech that the FCC would work to redraft its net neutrality blueprint.

Tom Wheeler
All eyes are on new FCC Chair Tom Wheeler regarding how to salvage net neutrality.
[Image Source: Bloomberg]

He remarked:

In its Verizon v. FCC decision, the Court of Appeals invited the Commission to act to preserve a free and open Internet.  I accept that invitation, and in the coming days, I will be outlining how I propose to proceed.
...
We can't just kick the can down the road.  We have an obligation to act now with the principles that have been transmitted to us in the form of statutes, judicial and regulatory precedents, scholarship, and experience.

His organization must now find a way to eliminate or navigate around a hurdle that his predecessors created.
 
II. Reclassification?
 
The debate revolves to what constitutes a "common carrier".  In the early days of the internet, traffic traveled over phone lines so enforcement on common carriers (landlines) meant effective enforcement on all internet service providers.  With the advent of fiber optic internet, internet service providers pushed the FCC to classify them as "broadband" -- a new communications class -- to prevent subjecting the fledgling infrastructure to overly onerous regulation.  The FCC agreed with this logic and classified them different.
 
This would come back to bite it, as the key reason why the circuit court viewed the FCC's enforcement as arbitrary was because the law only empowered it to enforce a free internet market on "common carriers" -- dialup internet providers.  Broadband, according to the court, was exempt on a technicality that the FCC itself made up.

Fiber optic cable
The FCC may have to try to reclassify broadband providers as a "common carrier" in order to regulate them under current laws. [Image Source: Guardian UK]

The FCC could opt to reclassify broadband as a common carrier, which is perhaps its best option.  But that would likely provoke outrage from broadband service providers, which would likely argue that the move would not only subject them to net neutrality regulation, but other policies that applied to landlines (and dialup internet) which might be punitive or nonsensical for broadband.
 
The only other apparent option would be to update the law to include promoting a free market among "broadband providers" and "common carriers" alike.  That arguably is the most appealing option in that it would be unlikely to generate as much resistance from broadband providers.
 
But for political reasons that option is basically off the table, at present.
 
III. Don't Expect a Bailout From Congress
 
The root of the problem lies in that while some broadband providers (like Verizon Inc. (VZ) are not opposed to mild, rigidly defined net neutrality, others oppose it in an absolute sense.  These broadband providers -- such as Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) -- are vigorously opposed to any sort of regulation as they believe they should be "free" to adopt creative new pricing schemes to not only charge users for services, but also demand tolls from users access sites and from the sites to serve the user.
 
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives -- heavily supported by campaign donations from Comcast and other net-neutrality ISPs -- have in effect argued that such corporate "triple dipping" should be legal.
 
Given that they control the U.S. House and that they have drafted bills looking to explicitly forbid the FCC from any sort of net neutrality regulation, it seems unlikely that any bill to clarify and codify net neutrality would make it in the House (even if it was passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate).

Congress Buillding wide
Congress is deadlocked on the issue of net neutrality. [Image Source: U.S. Congress]

Mr. Wheeler acknowledged this reality in his speech.

But while the deadlock means Congress won't be riding in on a horse to save the FCC's net neutrality legislatively, it's more than happy to vent its frustrations and concerns at the commissioners.

A coalition of five Democratic Senators -- Senator Alan Stuart "Al" Franken (D-Minn.), Senator Ronald Lee "Ron" Wyden (D-Ore.), Senator Jeffrey Alan "Jeff" Merkley (D-Ore.), Senator Edward John "Ed" Markey (D-Mass.), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)  -- penned a letter [PDF] to the FCC, urging it to move quickly to draft new rules.  In the letter they write:

Consumers, entrepreneurs and innovators deserve to know their right to view or use the content and services of their choice online will be protected.

In other words, Mr. Wheeler may be choosing the best route in embracing the court ruling, but he better figure out a way to convince service providers to tolerate reclassification or figure out a clever alternative or the internet content industry and consumers will remain vulnerable to abuse.

Sources: FCC, U.S. Senators to FCC [PDF]



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RE: a little convoluted
By MozeeToby on 2/13/2014 11:20:29 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
should ISPs be able to charge Netflix for consuming too much bandwidth
Netflix paid their ISP for that up stream bandwidth, the user paid their ISP for that down stream bandwidth, the two ISPs having peering agreements to move the data between them. Everyone is already paying for what they are using.

ISPs want to say "You paid for 30 megs down, but we never expected you to actually use that much! You'll have to pay us more to access Netflix at full speed!". They also want to turn around and say to Netflix "You paid for your ISP for 100 gigs of bandwidth, but we will slow that down on our end unless you pay us extra, even though we have peering agreements with your ISP".

In other words, they want to triple charge for the same service: they want to charge you once for the basic internet connection, again for connecting to "high bandwidth services" (which just so happen to conflict with their own offerings... by sheer coincidence), and then they want to bill the high bandwidth services themselves on top of all that.


RE: a little convoluted
By Rukkian on 2/14/2014 4:52:03 PM , Rating: 2
I don't even think that scenario is that big of an issue. I think the real issue is when the providers are in the business of competing with the companies they are then trying to raise fees on. Verizon owns redbox, and they now have a streaming option. What is to stop Verizon from making Netflix slow (no matter how much you pay) and giving Redbox (their own product) unlimited resources.

I am sure it would be tough to prove they are even doing, which may make it go unnoticed for quite some time.

As for those asking why this hasn't happened in the past, usually in the past there were not direct competitors - Verizon may have had TV and Internet, but people weren't ditching cable for online services that often until just recently. Adding to that competition is companies like Verizon buying places like RedBox, and all of a sudden there is quite a bit of a conflict of interest, especially when there are government mandated monopolies or duopolies that simply set their prices equal to each other. Net Neutrality was in place until the recent court ruling as well.


RE: a little convoluted
By Motoman on 2/14/2014 7:49:01 PM , Rating: 2
Netflix has/is already being downgraded by ISPs.

There are certain catastrophically retarded posters around here who insist that such things will never happen. We can only hope they stop breathing.

It's not simply a matter of the ISPs being *able* to throttle content...they HAVE to if they have the legal ability. Why?

Let's pretend for a moment that a major ISP, like Verizon, owns a stake in a video streaming service...like Redbox. Now, if you're Verizon, you'd like your customers to buy the Redbox service from you too...and not use Netflix, since that revenue goes somewhere else. What to do, what to do...oh! I know! We'll throttle down Netflix as it goes through our networks so that it's performance is degraded...that way people will dump that "crappy" Netflix and flock to our "superior-performing" Redbox service.

...or, maybe Verizon goes to Netflix and says "you know, we're partial to throttling your crap as it goes through our networks...unless you pay us money." And then they get money that way too.

Now, why did I say they "had" to do these things? Because it maximizes revenue. ALL publicly-traded companies are *required* to maximize their returns for their investors. A CEO and/or BOD that does *not* act in the manner that maximizes returns for their investors is likely to get fired...and possibly sued, maybe even put in jail. This isn't a matter of "theoretically they could do that" - it's a matter of actually HAVING to do it in order to fulfill their obligations as publicly-traded companies.


RE: a little convoluted
By Reclaimer77 on 2/15/2014 9:54:36 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
We can only hope they stop breathing.


Likewise to anyone who trusts the Government with Net Neutrality legislation.

I guess you thought the ACA was a good idea too? I mean, who could possibly be against the premise of better healthcare for all Americans?

Like just about anything the Government does, especially this one, this sounds like an innocent and honorable endeavor. What could possibly go wrong, right?


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