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Posts Categorised: net neutrality

They’re pushing back hard and seeking Hill help to reinstate Title II protections

WASHINGTON — Net neutrality activist groups were lining up their protest efforts Monday (June 11) as the FCC’s rules against online blocking, throttling and paid prioritization sunset in favor of a deregulatory regime centered on Federal Trade Commission oversight/enforcement.

But they were also playing down any immediate changes, likely an effort to take some of the shine off deregulation fans’ argument that the internet will look no different Monday than it did the day before.

“Users will see no changes to the internet,” read an email from a company promoting the various efforts to protest the rule rollback. “Big cable and ISPs will take their time to block, throttle, and prevent users from freely accessing the internet.”

But activists weren’t taking their time in pushing back hard and seeking Hill help.

The Voices for Internet Freedom coalition, for example, was hosting an “emergency meeting” Monday night to “learn how the Trump FCC’s repeal of Net Neutrality will impact communities of color and why the fight to protect the open internet is a critical racial justice issue.”

Coalition members include 18 Million Rising, the Center for Media Justice, Free Press Action Fund, Color Of Change and the National Hispanic Media Coalition.

And while various groups and websites were adding protest banners and widgets Monday as an online “action day,” Public Knowledge, Common Cause, Center for American Progress, Fight for the Future, Free Press, Consumers Union, Center for Media Justice and others were planning a second action day June 26 on the Hill in advance of the July 4 break.

While ISPs and Republicans have been pushing for bipartisan network neutrality legislation, the Hill advocacy day will be targeted toward getting House members to sign on to the Congressional Reform Act resolution to restore the network neutrality rules by nullifying their rollback.

That CRA passed narrowly in the Senate, but according to the groups, there are currently 174 House members supporting it, which is not even all the Dems and far short of the 218 they would need to force a vote in the House.

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A Congressional effort to revive the rules has passed in the Senate, but has yet to be taken up by the House

WASHINGTON — June 11 marked the end of the road for Title II regulations, more commonly known as “net neutrality,” as the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the rules has now taken effect.

The FCC released a statement standing by its repeal and emphasizing that the “internet wasn’t broken” in 2015 when the rules were passed, framing the repeal as a return to the “light-touch approach” that was in place as the Internet first formed and grew, with some enhanced rules on disclosure requirements for service providers, according to rcrwireless.com . As just one example: If customers’ terms of service do change, it must be disclosed to them.

An effort in Congress to revive the rules — under which internet service providers were required to provide equal access to all content without throttling, blocking or offering paid priority based on the service or content — has passed in the Senate, but has yet to be taken up by the House. There are still state attorneys general fighting the repeal in the courts, and some states are attempting to put their own net neutrality rules in place.

As one example, on May 30, the California State Senate overwhelmingly passed strong net neutrality legislation despite “fierce opposition from big ISPs, including AT&T and Comcast,” according to lightreading.com . The California bill (SB 822) would amend state law by adding several online practices to the state’s Consumers’ Legal Remedies Act’s definition of “certain unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in the provision of goods and services in the state. “Under the bill, those unfair methods would now include blocking, throttling and paid prioritization of web content, as well as paid zero-rating plans.”

The FCC order eliminating the federal net neutrality rules pre-empts states from trying to impose the rules within their boundaries. “So a classic states’ rights court battle is brewing in Sacramento, especially if other states either follow California’s legislative lead or require providers to adhere to net neutrality rules when they sign government broadband deals,” according to the same article in Light Reading. 

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Expire June 11, barring further developments like action in Congress

U.S. “net neutrality” rules will expire on June 11, the Federal Communications Commission said last week.

In December the FCC repealed the open-internet rules that had been set in 2015, barring providers from blocking or slowing access to content or charging consumers more for certain content.

“The prior rules were intended to ensure a free and open internet, give consumers equal access to web content and bar broadband service providers from favoring their own material or others,” Reuters reported.

“The revised rules were a win for internet service providers, whose practices faced significant government oversight and FCC investigations under the 2015 order, but are opposed by internet firms like Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc.”

The new rules require internet providers to tell consumers whether they will block or slow content or offer paid “fast lanes.” Comcast, Verizon and AT&T  have all pledged to not block or discriminate against legal content after the rules expire. Some internet providers have said they could eventually offer paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization, for some future internet traffic.

A group of 22 states led by New York and others have sued to try to block the new rules from taking effect, and the U.S. Senate could vote to reject the December repeal. Acting New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood said, “The repeal of net neutrality would allow internet service providers to put their profits before the consumers they serve and control what we see, do, and say online,” as quoted in the same article. A spokeswoman for Underwood said the state attorneys general have not sought a stay of the FCC order yet.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has led the move to change the rules. Even if the Senate were to block this change, that effort would not likely survive the more heavily Republican House of Representatives or a presidential veto.

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New England grass roots effort may offer new hope for the movement

CONCORD, Mass. — It seems like technology companies have become immensely powerful and seemingly accountable to no one. 

In Radio Magazine Today, we’ve used a lot of space reviewing recent federal rollbacks of net neutrality. Is there anything to be done by the average citizen? According to an opinion piece in the Washington Post , there is — through internet service provided by local governments, which are directly accountable to citizens.

Mark Howell is the chief information officer for the town of Concord, Massachusetts, and he writes: “I’ve overseen the creation of a successful municipal broadband system by treating Internet service like what it really is — a public utility, like water and electricity. We’re providing residents with broadband Internet service that is inexpensive and reliable and respects net neutrality and privacy principles.”

So just how was this accomplished? Concord has had a municipal electric utility since the early 1900s. 

“At our town meeting in 2009, citizens approved a plan for the utility to build a fiber-optic network because it needed upgrades to support such “smart grid” functions as advanced meter reading and load-management programs.” In 2013 the town meeting approved a plan to use that network to provide Internet service.

“Although we spent money to invest in this new infrastructure, once we started working on the system, we found that we could save money. We used our fiber-optic system to interconnect the schools, library, other town buildings and water system sites, saving tens of thousands of dollars a year on expensive and increasingly unreliable telephone lines. Once we started providing our own Internet service, the town saved even more.”

The city offers simple, flat-rate pricing without any of the “confusing packages” that customers of private telecoms have to deal with, and twice in four years Internet speeds have increased with no price hike.

“Our Internet service operates under rules set not by a for-profit company but by locally elected leaders and residents who volunteer to serve on the service’s board,” writes Howell. “We strictly abide by the principles of free speech and net neutrality, which means that all Internet traffic is treated equally. We also protect privacy by not sharing customer information with anyone.”

The city issued bonds to get started, and they will eventually be repaid by revenue from customers. Broadband revenue is covering the operating costs. The debt is financing the cost of adding about 300 customers per year, and according to Howell, “we project that by 2020, revenue will be covering these expansion costs as well. On top of that, there are the benefits that come with being a place that offers high-quality, high-speed Internet to homes and businesses.” 

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The legislation would have disqualified ISPs from receiving state Universal Service Fund high-cost support money for deploying broadband unless they agreed not to block, throttle or prioritize for pay

DENVER — A Colorado bill has died in committee that would have disqualified ISPs, including Colorado municipal broadband providers, from receiving state Universal Service Fund high-cost support money for deploying broadband unless they agreed not to block, throttle or prioritize for pay.

HB18-1312 would also have required refunding money if an ISP engaged in such practices, and would have given a government contracting preference for ISPs that do not engage in those practices.

According to the Colorado legislature’s website, action on the bill was indefinitely postponed by the Senate Committee on State, Veterans & Military Affairs, in this case the issue being a “state” affair.

ISPs lobbied against the bill as yet another in a patchwork of proposed or adopted state regs when what is needed is national legislation.

States are attempting to recreate the FCC’s net neutrality rules rolled back in a Dec. 14, 2017 decision, though that decision also preempts such state efforts. That means a court fight looms where legislation has succeeded in being passed or the governor has signed an executive order requiring net neutrality in government broadband contracts.

“This issue is about what is best for Colorado’s consumers and taxpayers,” said Rep. Chris Hansen, who has been a driving force behind the bill. “[D]o they want to pay more for an unequal internet, or do they want the internet to remain free and open to all? It is important for states to lead in the absence of action by Congress, and we will continue to do so here in Denver. “

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It would prohibit paid prioritization, zero rating plans, apply rules to interconnections in California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Democratic state legislator in California is proposing revising consumer protection laws as a way to reinstate tough new network neutrality rules being rolled back by the FCC.

Sen. Scott Weiner Tuesday (March 13) introduced a tough new version of a net neutrality bill  that would add various online practices to the Consumers Legal Remedies Act’s definition of “certain unfair methods of competition and unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in the provision of goods and services in the state.

Those unfair methods would now include blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, and specifically paid zero rating plans, among other things (see below).

ISPs can zero rate in application-agnostic ways, but can’t do so in exchange for being paid by a third party. Zero rating plans are ones in which third parties subsidize an ISP’s exclusion of accessing their site — say streaming a bandwidth-heavy video — from a users’ bandwidth allowance. It is both a way for the edge provider to drive traffic to their site and for the ISP to differentiate service.

The bill would also tie access to the state’s Universal Service Fund broadband subsidies to adhering to the new net neutrality rules and apply net neutrality to interconnections, which the FCC did in the 2015 Open Internet order and the current FCC reversed.

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A bill that reinstates protections repealed by the FCC passed both houses of the state’s legislature

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Washington state ratified its own net-neutrality protections on Feb. 27, the first state to do so in a direct rebuke to Washington, D.C.

A bill that reinstates protections repealed by the Federal Communications Commission in December passed both houses of Washington state’s legislature. It now heads to the governor’s desk to be signed, according to geekwire.com .

Washington State will forbid broadband companies from blocking or slowing lawful internet traffic or selling fast lanes at a premium. It also requires broadband companies to publicly disclose their business practices “sufficient for consumers to make informed choices,” according to the same article.

Of course Washington state’s net neutrality law is likely to face legal challenges. The FCC’s official repeal of net neutrality, published in the Federal Register last week, preempts states and local jurisdictions from passing de facto net neutrality laws. The FCC has indicated that the new rules preempt any state or local measures that would effectively impose rules or requirements that we have repealed or decided to refrain from imposing in this order, including laws that would require disclosure of business practices from internet providers, like the one just passed by the Washington state legislature.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is also preparing a legal challenge to the FCC’s decision, as part of a coalition with attorneys general from 21 other states and the District of Columbia.

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Publication of the final text of the decision signals that lawsuits challenging the rule rollback can be filed

WASHINGTON — It’s official. Thursday, Feb. 22, was the red letter day for court and congressional challenges to the FCC’s Dec. 14 decision to roll back FCC network neutrality rules and reclassify ISPs out from under Title II common carrier regs.

The FCC has delivered the final Restoring Internet Freedom order to the Federal Register, which has just signaled it would be publishing that order on Thursday.

Publication of the final text of the decision signals that lawsuits challenging the rule rollback can be filed, and triggers the FCC’s determination of the date when the rules go into effect — challenges can begin even before that effective date. That doesn’t necessarily mean the rules will go into effect soon. The FCC said in the order that it would not release an effective date until the Office of Management and Budget approves the new reporting requirements of the enhanced transparency rules and that, too, has been published in the Federal Register, which has not happened yet. That reporting requirement is central to enforcement of net neutrality in the absence of bright-line rules, since the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department will rely on what ISPs say they are doing to decide whether that is unfair or deceptive or anticompetitive.

Publication also triggers a 60-legislative-day deadline for Congress to vote on a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, pushed by Democrats and net neutrality activists, to nullify the decision. That is a long shot bordering on simply a shot across the vow in advance of the legal challenges to come, and a way to keep the issue alive for Democrats who see it as a midterm election issue.

The FCC had already sent copies of the order to House and Senate, but the CRA clock does not start until Register publication, according to Hill and FCC sources.

On Dec. 14, in a politically divided 3-2 vote (On Dec. 14, in a politically divided 3-2 vote, the FCC chairman Ajit Pai-led Republican majority eliminated the rules against blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, as well as the “general conduct standard,” which gave the FCC a way to potentially prohibit anticompetitive or discriminatory ISP conduct that was not covered by the rules.

Importantly, it also reclassified ISPs as Title I information services, removing them from the common carrier regulatory bucket and giving chief oversight of ISP conduct to the Federal Trade Commission under its unfair, deceptive and anticompetitive authority.

The item restores the FTC’s authority over broadband regulation, and adopts a transparency rule that requires ISPs to let the government and web users know how they are managing their networks and what business practices they are using, which the FTC can enforce if those practices are unfair or deceptive or anticompetitive, and the Justice Department can enforce if they violate antitrust laws.

That means ISPs could block or throttle, though they have promised not to, and engage in paid prioritization, which some ISPs may want to try as a way to differentiate their services.

The FCC also asserts the ability to preempt state or local attempts to create their own net neutrality laws or regulations.

The Dec. 14 vote was a long-sought victory for ISPs, who argue that the Democratic-led FCC’s 2015 reclassification of internet access as a Title II common-carrier service subject to those bright-line rules was regulatory overreach that depressed investment and innovation to no pro-consumer purchase.

Among net-neutrality activists, who had pulled out all the stops in the last days to try to head off the vote, it was billed as a death blow to the open Internet by a former Verizon lawyer (FCC chair Ajit Pai) in service of the Trump Administration and communications monopolies looking for even more power.

Which side will ultimately prevail is now in the hands of the Congress and the courts, the latter just the latest in a series of trips over the past decade.

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More States Insist on Net Neutrality

Do Hawaii and New Jersey have the right to do so?

WASHINGTON — Hawaii and New Jersey are the latest states to decree that all state agencies should only do business with internet service providers agreeing to follow net neutrality principles, joining Montana and New York. Hawaii, New Jersey and New York are among the 23 states where the attorneys general are suing the FCC for repealing net neutrality rules put in place in 2015.

One important question is like the 800 lb gorilla in the room though: do states have the right to create their own Internet policy? Markham Erickson, the telecom attorney representing Incompas , the industry association for competitive communications carriers, said the FCC may have “backed itself into a corner on the states’ rights issue,” according to lightreading.com . While the FCC said individual states couldn’t override federal policy, it also renounced its own authority to impose net neutrality provisions, which would appear to leave the door open for states to impose them if they so choose.

In Congress, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) has introduced a bill banning blocking and throttling of Internet traffic, but leaving in place the possibility for paid prioritization, and maintaining the categorization of ISPs as Title 1 information service providers, which are regulated by the FTC rather than the FCC. Blackburn also calls for continued limitations on the FCC to preempt state net neutrality laws, according to the same article. Representative Mike Coffman (R-Co.) says he will introduce a net neutrality bill that would go further than Blackburn’s proposal: Coffman wants to ensure blocking, throttling and paid prioritization are all illegal, and he wants to create a compromise in how ISPs are regulated that would keep them under FCC oversight, but not subject them to Title II governance.

The FCC’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Act” will likely get published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks, after which there will be a 60-day period before the order goes into effect. Any lawsuits are likely to take one to two years before they’re granted a decision by a federal court, and the party which disagrees with the outcome will likely take the issue to the Supreme Court. 

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