The FCC’s net neutrality rules don’t even go into effect until June 12, but they’re already benefiting consumers. You’ll recall that the last year or so has been filled with ugly squabbling over interconnection issues, with Level 3 accusing ISPs like Verizon of letting peering points congest to kill settlement-free peering and drive Netflix toward paying for direct interconnection. But with Level 3 and Cogent hinting they’d be using the FCC’s new complaint process to file grievances about anti-competitive behavior, magically Verizon has now quickly struck deals with Level 3 and Cogent that everybody on board appears to be happy with.
And it’s not just Verizon; Level 3 also quickly managed to strike a new interconnection deal with AT&T, and Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer recently proclaimed Comcast has also become suddenly more amicable of late, turning on ports for capacity quickly and when needed. Comcast, like AT&T and Verizon, has also suddenly announced a new interconnection deal with Level 3 Comcast says it was “delighted” to sign.
That players in the transit and ISP space are suddenly getting along so wonderfully when ISPs insisted net neutrality rules would result in the destruction of the Internet is nothing short of miraculous. It’s almost as if the FCC’s new net neutrality rules are already benefiting consumers, companies and a healthy internet alike!
So things just keep getting stranger and stranger online. A bunch of mobile operators are apparently planning to start automatically blocking all mobile ads. Now, for those of you who hate ads online, this might seem like a good thing, but it is not. If you want to disable ads on your own, that should be your call. In fact, as we’ve noted before, we think people on the web have every right to install their own ad blockers, and we find it ridiculous when people argue that ad blocking is some form of “theft.”
But this is different… and this is dangerous.
As the reports make clear, this move has nothing to do with actually protecting the public from malicious or annoying ads… and everything to do with the mobile operators hoping to shake down Google.
The plan – which would be devastating to companies reliant on advertising – is not limited to a single European network. Its apparent aim is to break Google’s hold on advertising.
The FT report says that “an executive at a European carrier confirmed that it and several of its peers are planning to start blocking adverts this year” and will be available as an “opt-in service” however they are also considering applying the technology across their entire mobile networks.
And, the clear plan is to then go to Google and say “give us money or else”:
The unnamed European carrier in the Financial Times article is reportedly planning to target Google and block its ads to force the company into giving up some of its revenue.
Republicans in Congress yesterday unveiled a new plan to fast track repeal of the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules.
Introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and 14 Republican co-sponsors, the “Resolution of Disapproval” would use Congress’ fast track powers under the Congressional Review Act to cancel the FCC’s new rules.
Internet providers are now common carriers, and they’re ready to sue.
Saying the resolution “would require only a simple Senate majority to pass under special procedural rules of the Congressional Review Act,” Collins’ announcement called it “the quickest way to stop heavy-handed agency regulations that would slow Internet speeds, increase consumer prices and hamper infrastructure development, especially in his Northeast Georgia district.”
Republicans can use this method to bypass Democratic opposition in the Senate by requiring just a simple majority rather than 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, but “it would still face an almost certain veto from President Obama,” National Journal wrote. “Other attempts to fast-track repeals of regulations in the past have largely been unsuccessful.”
This isn’t the only Republican effort to overturn the FCC’s net neutrality rules. Another, titled the “Internet Freedom Act,” would wipe out the new net neutrality regime. Other Republican proposals would enforce some form of net neutrality rules while limiting the FCC’s power to regulate broadband.
The FCC’s rules also face lawsuits from industry consortiums that represent broadband providers. USTelecom filed suit yesterday just after the publication of the rules in the Federal Register. Today, the CTIA Wireless Association, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), and American Cable Association (ACA) all filed lawsuits to overturn the FCC’s Open Internet Order.
The CTIA and NCTA are the most prominent trade groups representing the cable and wireless industries. The ACA, which represents smaller providers, said it supports net neutrality rules but opposes the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband as a common carrier service. However, a previous court decision ruled that the FCC could not impose the rules without reclassifying broadband.
During the first round of the FCC’s net neutrality comment period, the agency was absolutely swamped by public input (including ours), the vast majority of it supporting net neutrality. After the agency released a database of the comments, analysis of the comments showed that while around half were generated via “outrage-o-matic” forms from various consumer advocacy groups, once you got into the other half of the comments — almost all were in support of net neutrality. After the volume of pro-neutrality comments received ample media coverage, anti-neutrality organizations — like the Phil Kerpen’s Koch-Funded “American Commitment” — dramaticallyramped up their automated form comment efforts to try and balance the comment scales.
As we noted at the time, Kerpen and American Commitment’s efforts were jam packed with some absurd, alarmist dreck. Similarly, claims that net neutrality opponents then “won” the comment period because they purchased some wingnut e-mail lists to pad the petition were misleading as well. Perusing the FCC comments and analysis of the data, there’s really no way to conclude anything other than the fact the FCC’s efforts have broad, bipartisan public support. Like countless similar groups, American Commitment obscures its funding sources, making its ties to the broadband industry impossible to prove.
That brings us to this week, when American Commitment proudly crowed it had managed to urge 540,538 citizens to send 1,621,614 letters to Congress opposing net neutrality and basically asking for the FCC to be defunded. Except some new analysis of the latest wave of comments suggests there was some serious skulduggery afoot. As in, some of the constituent names used to sign these letters — either don’t exist or never sent letters opposing net neutrality:
“The flood of traffic seemed to raise some lawmakers’ eyebrows, including Democratic Rep. Jackie Speier of California, whose office soon determined some of the messages had come from constituents who didn’t recall sending them. Her aides pointed to a memo sent to members’ staff last week by Lockheed Martin, which manages the technology behind some lawmakers’ “contact me” Web pages. Lockheed initially said it had “some concerns regarding the messages,” including the fact that “a vast majority of the emails do not appear to have a valid in-district address.” In some cases, Lockheed also questioned the “legitimacy of the email address contact associated with the incoming message[s].”
When asked about this, Kerpen suggested that the actions are that of unspecified third party rogue agents, and that his organization knew nothing about the ploy:
“Asked about the matter, Kerpen told POLITICO that American Commitment hadn’t impersonated members’ constituents. But he said that other groups had mounted similar campaigns, and borrowed the pre-written text available on his website. “We’re aware that other groups used identical language in their campaigns and we cannot speak to those efforts,” Kerpen said. “We verified our data through postal address verification and follow up phone calls. We stand by our campaign and Congress should work to stop President [Barack] Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet at the request of these constituents.”
Whoever is to blame (and I’d imagine this entire affair is quickly forgotten in the annals of muddy neutrality lore), it certainly speaks to the quality of your argument when you need to either buy — or just outright fabricate — your support.
Apparently the state of Tennessee really doesn’t want its citizens to have good, competitive broadband. While the FCC’s net neutrality rules keep getting all the attention, as we’ve discussed, in the long run it may be a bigger deal that the FCC (the same day it released the net neutrality rules) also started dismantling protectionist state laws that block municipal broadband. Those laws — almost all of which were written directly by big broadband players afraid of competition — make it close to impossible for local municipalities to decide that they’re going to set up true competitors. The FCC pre-empted two such state laws, including in Tennessee, where one super successful municipal broadband project, in Chattanooga, wanted to expand to other nearby places. However, Tennessee’s law blocked this.
We already noted that Rep. Marsha Blackburn was trying to pass legislation that would block the FCC’s efforts here, but the state of Tennessee has taken it up a notch and sued the FCC over the rules. You will notice that the arguments used by the state of Tennessee are almost verbatim identical to the lawsuits we wrote about yesterday challenging the FCC’s net neutrality rules:
The State of Tennessee, as a sovereign and a party to the proceeding below, is aggrieved and seeks relief on the grounds that the Order: (1) is contrary to the United States Constitution; (2) is in excess of the Commission’s authority; (3) is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act; and (4) is otherwise contrary to law.
Yes, this is almost word-for-word identical to the claims made about the net neutrality rules and is basically the standard language to challenge any FCC ruling.
But here’s the larger question: if you’re a resident of Tennessee who likes having fast, affordable, competitive broadband, are you happy about your tax dollars being used to sue the FCC in an effort to uphold a law written by the big broadband players, focused on blocking such competition? It seems like the current Tennessee Attorney General, Herbert Slatery, has painted a giant target on his back for a challenger who actually wants to support the public in Tennessee.
During the last election cycle, Representative Marsha Blackburn received $15,000 from a Verizon PAC, $25,000 from an AT&T PAC, $20,000 from a Comcast PAC, and $20,000 from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Surely that funding is only coincidentally related to Blackburn’s recent decision to rush to the defense of awful state protectionist law written by the likes of AT&T and Comcast, preventing towns and cities from doing absolutely anything about their local lack of broadband competition.
That money surely is also only tangentially related to the fact that Blackburn has also just introduced the “Internet Freedom Act” (pdf), aimed at gutting the FCC’s recently unveiled Title II-based net neutrality rules and prohibiting the agency from trying to make new ones. Whereas most of us thought net neutrality is about protecting consumers and smaller competitors from the incumbent ISP stranglehold over the last mile, Blackburn’s website informs readers that net neutrality rules harm innovators, jobs, and err — freedom:
Earlier this week, the A Good Cartoon tumblr first posted a bunch of ridiculous and misleadingpolitical cartoons about net neutrality that showed zero understanding of net neutrality. And then the person behind the site remade many of those cartoons, but replaced the words in them with “the cartoonist has no idea how net neutrality works!” For reasons unknown, the original Tumblr post that had all of them has been taken down, but many of the images are still viewable via John Hodgman’s blog, and they’re worth checking out. Here are just a few with some additional commentary (because how can I not provide some commentary…)
Right, so actually, the rules are designed to do the exact opposite of the image above. They’re designed to make sure that the big broadband access players can’t delay things and have to deliver your content faster. The idea that the FCC will be stepping between the content and people who want to see it is completely false. I don’t even know what the original cartoonist was trying to say here, because it doesn’t even make the slightest bit of sense. The text in the original cartoon was “time’s up, next!” which makes even less sense than the first cartoon. The whole point of the new rules is to prevent broadband providers from putting these types of controls on your internet usage. Sensing a pattern yet? All of these cartoons are pretending that the new rules insert the FCC between you and the internet. And all of them pretend that the FCC is going to do what the broadband providers themselves have said they want to do — which these rules are designed to prevent. So, yes, the cartoonist has no idea how net neutrality works. At least this one doesn’t go for the easy (but wrong) joke pretending that the FCC is now watching what you do online. Instead, it’s claiming that there’s no reason for the FCC to “fix” anything because it’s “not broken.” But that’s only true if you ignore the attempts to break neutrality along with how the broadband providers purposely made your Netflix slow in order to get the company to pay its tolls. And, of course, it also means having to ignore what the broadband providers have been saying themselves for a decade now about how they want to double and triple charge internet services to reach end users. If you pretend all of that isn’t true, then maybe the original cartoon makes sense. But, all of it is true, so the cartoonist has no idea how net neutrality works.
We’ve discussed more than a few times the awful precedent set by AT&T’s Sponsored Data effort, which involves companies paying AT&T to have their service be exempt from the company’s already arbitrary usage caps. While AT&T pitches this as a wonderful boon to consumers akin to 1-800 numbers and free shipping, as VC Fred Wilson perfectly illustrated last year, it tilts the entire wireless playing field toward companies with deeper pockets that can afford to pay AT&T’s rates for cap exemption.
So how will the FCC’s new net neutrality rules impact AT&T’s plans? There’s every indication it won’t. The rules are still a few years and a few legal challenges away from becoming tangible, and in the interim, the FCC is telling companies that none of the zero rated efforts currently in play should be impacted. Meanwhile, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Norway, Chile and now Canada all realize the threat posed by zero rated apps and have passed net neutrality rules that outlaw zero rating. The FCC, in contrast, has consistently implied it sees zero rating as “creative” pricing.
That’s given AT&T the justifiable confidence to sally forth with its dangerous precedent. After all, injecting a gatekeeper like AT&T (with a generation of documented anti-competitive abuses under its belt) right into the middle of the wireless app ecosystem won’t hurt anyone, and has nothing whatsoever to do with net neutrality.