15 May 2014

I Think that the FCC Just Kicked the Can Down the Road

After FCC Chairman, and former telco lobbyist, unleashed a bit of a sh%$ storm when he basically proposed ending net neutrality and relying on the kindness of the FCC in the future.

So the FCC punted today:
Federal regulators appear to share one view about so-called net neutrality: It is a good thing.

But defining net neutrality? That is where things get messy.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to open for public debate new rules meant to guarantee an open Internet. Before the plan becomes final, though, the chairman of the commission, Tom Wheeler, will need to convince his colleagues and an array of powerful lobbying groups that the plan follows the principle of net neutrality, the idea that all content running through the Internet’s pipes is treated equally.

While the rules are meant to prevent Internet providers from knowingly slowing data, they would allow content providers to pay for a guaranteed fast lane of service. Some opponents of the plan, those considered net neutrality purists, argue that allowing some content to be sent along a fast lane would essentially discriminate against other content.


The proposal also requests public comments on whether and by how much the commission should tighten regulation of Internet service providers. For example, the commission asks whether it should reclassify high-speed Internet service as a utilitylike application, subject to stricter regulatory controls than now apply, and if it should ban certain practices that might impede consumers from getting equal access to all legal online content through their chosen Internet service provider.
So basically, they proposed a tiered internet with protections that depend on whether or not you get a Bush appointed judge, in which case, you are f%$#ed, and also proposed returning ISPs to the status of telecommunications services, (Title II) which would regulate them as utilities.

I think that the intention here is to hope that the controversy will die down over the next few months months, and then they can go with the telcos and cable companies with less public push-back.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation takes a rather similar view of these developments:
There’s good news: the nationwide outcry against the Federal Communications Commission’s troublesome proposal for new Open Internet rules is clearly having an impact. At a public meeting this morning, commissioners were factoring in questions that—according to previous accounts—weren’t on the table only days ago. The bad news: the FCC still is considering a set of rules that will allow Internet providers to discriminate how we access websites with only vague and uncertain limits, endangering network neutrality and threatening the vibrant growth of the Internet.

We’re still waiting for the full proposal. But according to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s statements at the open meeting, the FCC didn't take pay-to-play "fast lanes" off the table. Paid “fast lane” access fees threaten the engine of innovation that has allowed hackers, startup companies, and kids in their college dorm rooms to make the Internet that we know and love today. We want the Internet to continue to thrive as a platform for innovation and expression; vague rules that bless "pay to play," with ill-defined limits, are not compatible with our vision of an open Internet.
The good folks at the EFF also provide a tool, Dear FCC, to help people make their feelings known during the public comment period.

It turns out that there is one unambiguously good thing in the proposal, the FCC has proposed assigning 3 television channels to unlicensed public use:
While FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s fast-lane/slow-lane net neutrality proposal was taking a beating on all sides (even Wheeler took a few whacks at it), Internet companies sneaked through a huge victory when the agency agreed to set aside up to three channels of TV airwaves for unlicensed use.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s something that Google, Microsoft and other tech companies have spent years advocating. In the past, Republican lawmakers have mostly shut down those efforts, saying that billion-dollar tech companies don’t need a freebie.

This time it mostly slid under the radar as Republicans were distracted by net neutrality and upset about proposed bidding restrictions on AT&T and Verizon in the upcoming TV airwaves auction.

Most airwaves can only be used by companies or parties that hold exclusive licenses; unlicensed airwaves can be used by anyone. Wi-Fi networks run on unlicensed airwaves, and tech companies have been trying for years to get more set aside for more powerful Wi-Fi networks.

Internet companies recently got a huge chunk of airwaves set aside for unlicensed use. But they also coveted a channel or two of TV airwaves, which are among the most valuable since signals on those frequencies can go through buildings and travel relatively long distances.

With its move Thursday, the FCC basically created a half-mile public beach in the middle of multimillion-dollar mansions. ………
This is akin to the various white space proposals that have been fought tooth and nail by the wireless firms.

If this survives, it will be an unalloyed good, but unless the pressure is kept up on the FCC about reinstating Title II, we are going to continue to have a overpriced and under-performing broadband services in the United States.


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