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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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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: a little convoluted
By Reclaimer77 on 2/13/2014 1:01:21 PM , Rating: 0
quote:
The reason for this government intrusion, is that a few companies wanted to unfairly milk more money from people and were called on it.


And yet hardly a single case of this has even happened. Certainly on no significant scale.

All we're told from Net Neutrality legislation supporters is what could happen. Well news flash, but we shouldn't be rushing into Federal rules based on what may or may not happen.

quote:
There is no reason an ISP should restrict a download of X-GB of data from Netflix and not restrict a download of X-GB of data from their own video streaming service.


I agree with you. But again, where exactly is this taking place? It's not!

Netflix accused Verizon of throttling Netflix, but it was unfounded and they later admitted there was no throttling. There's rumors of Comcast doing it, but again, nothing proven!

This certainly falls short of the utter doomsday scenarios you fearmongers have conjured up!

This could have happened at any point during the Internet's history. And yet with a bare minimum of rules and regulations, the Internet has always had defacto Net Neutrality. And without Government interference, has evolved into the single greatest expression of free speech, trade, commerce, and art in the history of man.

Tea Party? Anti-Government? Hey idiot, this is the same Government that runs and funds the NSA! And Government is the whole reason ISP became monopolies in the first place.

Again, you don't have to sell me on the idea of Net Neutrality. But you have a LONG way to go to convince people that our current dysfunctional and corrupt Government should be in charge of it. You think ISP's abuse their power? They have nothing on Uncle Sam!


RE: a little convoluted
By BifurcatedBoat on 2/13/2014 4:31:31 PM , Rating: 3
They want to do it, so if they are allowed to do it, why wouldn't they do it? Even if they haven't done it yet, doesn't mean they won't if they think they can get away with it.

"Quit worrying that the fuel gauge reads empty now - we're still moving just as fast as we were an hour ago."


RE: a little convoluted
By Reclaimer77 on 2/13/2014 6:35:59 PM , Rating: 2
Sooo what's stopped them from doing it at any point during the past 20 odd years?

Come back with some logical thoughts...


RE: a little convoluted
By atechfan on 2/14/2014 5:00:10 AM , Rating: 2
It is only recently that the internet has become a threat to cable TV. There wasn't any reason to do it 20 years ago.


RE: a little convoluted
By Fujikoma on 2/13/2014 11:49:49 PM , Rating: 1
Charging per GB and bandwith throttling (on unlimited data also) is already a business model with Verizon and AT&T. ISPs have no legal reason not to start milking the system and have every reason to drag this out. I see ISPs no different than any other corporate entity when it comes to milking for more money. Just look at what deregulation in the banking industry caused. If you honestly think that business can be trusted not to stack the market and follow what the customer wants, then you're historically ignorant. Without rules in place, there is no reason for a company not to do what it wants. There's a reason why laws are in place, because someone (or business) kept screwing with people and it needed to be written out with a societally accepted punishment to encourage people (or businesses) to stop. Why do you think we have labor and environmental laws??? Because companies can be trusted???
Never said doomsday... just milking more money. This isn't the same thing as the Cuban missile crisis. Don't know why you can't tell the difference.
These same anti-government/tea-party (i.e. religious nuts) types were what started this shit government starting back in the 70's (aside from corporate lobbying). It's just snow-balled into its current state with both parties violating citizen rights. Current NSA policies are a reflection of the Bush 9-11 terrorist scare. The fact that Obama is continuing those policies is telling of bi-partisan support against its citizens.


RE: a little convoluted
By Piiman on 2/15/2014 10:57:12 AM , Rating: 2
"quote:
There is no reason an ISP should restrict a download of X-GB of data from Netflix and not restrict a download of X-GB of data from their own video streaming service.

I agree with you. But again, where exactly is this taking place? It's not!"

Not Yet but it is obviously their goal.


"The whole principle [of censorship] is wrong. It's like demanding that grown men live on skim milk because the baby can't have steak." -- Robert Heinlein














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