FCC posts its 400-page net neutrality order

12 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

FCC releases net neutrality rules.

Two weeks after voting to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday released 313 pages of rules detailing what would be allowed. In announcing the recent ruling on net neutrality, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler contended that the policy enshrines the idea “that no one—whether government or corporate—should control free open access to the Internet.” The new regulation settles—at least for the moment—a critical question about how the Internet works, by requiring service providers to be a neutral gateway rather than handling different types of Internet traffic in different ways—and at different costs.Over several years, leading lights of the Web—among them Netflix,Google and Tumblr—importuned the Obama White House to align itself with the cause of net neutrality. “Net neutrality,” like so many progressivist-y causes—climate change, health care for all—is a phrase designed to be embraced rather than understood. The two Republican commissioners who cast the dissenting votes said that the FCC was inappropriately interfering in commerce to solve a problem that doesn’t exist—a charge that Republican legislators have vowed to carry forward by trying to roll back the FCC’s ruling. In 400 pages posted on its website, the agency provided details of the rules decried by cable and telephone companies as needlessly intrusive, and welcomed by Democrats and Internet companies as protecting Web traffic from being blocked or slowed.

Those protections lay the groundwork for the success of efforts aimed at resolving inequalities that low-income U.S. families face when it comes to access to, and meaningful engagement with, broadband and digital technologies Our research indicates that digital inequality remains a critical issue for low-income families with school-age children—and that resolving it has potential to solve real problems that do exist. Next steps include publication in the Federal Register, which sets the stage for expected lawsuits by companies that say the regulations are an unfair restriction that could lead to rate regulation. That’s not unusual, but considering the significance of this particular vote, a lot of noise was made by dissenting commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly about getting it released to the public. The rules reclassify high-speed Internet as a telecommunications service rather than an information one, subjecting providers to stricter regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

However, policymakers and education reformers still have limited understandings of why and how technology investments can be a game changer for under-served students. These are the nitpicky things that big cable companies plan to challenge in court, the things that Republicans in Congress will use as ammunition to strip the agency of its power to regulate the internet.

The rules prohibit fixed and wireless Internet service providers led by AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. from interfering with online traffic, or offering faster service in return for payment. Their aim is to protect the open Internet, advancing principles of so-called net neutrality by prohibiting broadband providers from elevating one kind of content over another.

Editing the document after the FCC’s vote makes sure the agency addresses opposing views as courts have demanded, Jonathan Sallet, the agency’s general counsel, said in a 2 March blog post. With the FCC set to decide on matters individually, the agency moves into a new position of prominence and a more active controlling role, one that is widely expected to be challenged in court by broadband providers like Verizon. We interviewed more than 300 parents and their school-age children who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch and therefore for reduced-cost broadband access through a national digital equity program.

Hearings have been called by Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican who has said the FCC action is “a mistake” that will depress investment, and Senator John Thune, a South Dakota Republican who has said the rules will discourage innovation. It turns out to be quite a lot: more than 700 rules aren’t going to be applied. “This includes no unbundling of last-mile facilities, no tariffing, no rate regulation, and no cost accounting rules, which results in a carefully tailored application of only those Title II provisions found to directly further the public interest in an open internet and more, better, and open broadband,” the order says. President Barack Obama welcomed the rules, saying they will protect innovation and “create a level playing field for the next generation of entrepreneurs.” Bloomberg It reflects a year’s worth of intense lobbying by carriers and Web companies — not to mention the public, whose 4 million written comments to the FCC helped convince the agency to adopt far more aggressive regulations. “That public input has created a robust record, enabling the Commission to adopt new rules that are clear and sustainable,” the FCC writes in the order. The idea that this proposal is a so-called “light touch” approach to regulation has been touted again and again, basically as a way to quell concerns from those who oppose regulation.

One-third of families in our Colorado study did not have Internet access at home, revealing that providing them affordable opportunities to get online remains an urgent issue. The order focuses on three specific rules for internet service: no blocking, no throttling, and no paid prioritization. “A person engaged in the provision of broadband internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management,” the order states, while outlining its rules against throttling. The agency received more than 4 million public comments, or nearly three times the previous record, reached in response to Janet Jackson’s performance at the 2004 Super Bowl. “Five years ago, who would have heard much of the FCC?” asked Roger Entner, telecommunications expert and lead analyst and founder of Recon Analytics in Boston. But we also interviewed many families who had made considerable sacrifices—including delaying needed home or car repairs, or forgoing Christmas presents—to afford broadband or to save enough money to purchase iPads, laptops, and smartphones. For paid prioritization, the order explains the practice as: “Paid prioritization” refers to the management of a broadband provider’s network to directly or indirectly favor some traffic over other traffic, including through use of techniques such as traffic shaping, prioritization, resource reservation, or other forms of preferential traffic management, either (a) in exchange for consideration (monetary or otherwise) from a third party, or (b) to benefit an affiliated entity Notably, the order does not place regulations on interconnect points, which are what Netflix has been arguing with internet providers about for the last year.

But it seems like companies that are pursuing their commercial interests including us have to arrive at something like that.” The Internet’s descent into the Washington heart of darkness is a perfect example of that famous Santayana-ism: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Now, the agency’s elevated profile “shows what an integral part Internet communication has become in our lives, and how protective people feel about this issue.” The new rules could produce tension between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, which has historically been charged with protecting consumers’ privacy online. For our purposes, the personification of this forgotten wisdom would be David Karp, the 28-year-old founder of the Web’s popular blogging platform, Tumblr.

We need to recalibrate digital equity programs that begin from the premise that poor parents either cannot provide their children access to tech, or are not interested in doing so. However, there are also strict rules as to what is and is not “reasonable.” The commission says that reasonable management is something that primarily has a technical justification, not something that has a business purpose. Some question whether the FCC, which has not requested an increase to its legal budget for next year, has the capacity to manage and adjudicate one-off petitions. It also specifically calls out Verizon’s attempt to throttle the speeds of people on its unlimited data plans — that, seemingly, will not fly under these rules. One solution: integrate a digital-equity emphasis into the upcoming reauthorization of the nation’s largest federal education program, the Elementary and Secondary Act.

Asked at the FCC’s open meeting last month about the broad provisions of the so-called general conduct rule and to clarify what its vague mandates meant, Wheeler conceded that the future was uncertain. “We don’t really know. Innovative models from informal education leaders like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, should have gold-standard access to broadband, new devices, and adults who can guide children’s skill development. We don’t know where things go next,” he said. “We have created a playing field where there are known rules, and the FCC will sit there as a referee and will throw the flag.” How good the FCC’s chances in court are depends on who you ask, but the commission typically has the authority to interpret how to apply rules like Title II.

That’s because, for all of the threats it’s received, it’s also heard from internet providers like Sprint that the order won’t actually change its investments, so long as the rules aren’t too strict. Such opportunities have often been reserved for more privileged children, partly because school-provided technologies usually restrict what students can use those technologies to do. From what the commission has said, they’re not, so there’s a good chance that AT&T and others are bluffing, trying to scare the commission with the threat of lessened investment, which it cares quite a bit about. Karp and the rest of the 20-something and 30-something Peter Pans in the app development world should find their way to the 80-something communications lawyers and lobbyists retired in Florida for a tutorial on what it’s like trying to get Washington off your back once it has climbed on.

Highly successful school networks, like High Tech High in San Diego and Rocketship Education in the Bay Area, demonstrate the power of disrupting the typical academic fare that low-income youth receive in the “dropout factories” that are all too common, particularly in urban centers across the country. These innovative schools rely on technology enabled, project-based learning or a flipped classroom, in which kids prepare at home with instructional content online.

Briefly, in 1987 the FCC proposed partially deregulating its ancient control of long-distance telephone rates; and it proposed allowing more competition among AT&T, other national carriers and the regional Bell operating companies, or Baby Bells. While most digital-equity programs focus on students and schools—for example, the Obama administration’s ConnectEd program—we need to remember that children’s first teachers are their families.

Iowa Utilities Board (involving, among other things, the “pick and choose” rule), Justice Antonin Scalia said the 1996 act “is in many important respects a model of ambiguity or indeed even self-contradiction.” For sure. A congressional staffer called the law “a communication lawyer’s dream.” About the only faction unabashedly cheering the FCC’s capture of the Internet is the Occupy-everything left. We also found that children often engage online content with their parents, helping to broker their families’ connections to resources that support their engagement with their adopted environments. Along the partisan divide, the Internet providers—AT&T, Verizon,Comcast—are seen largely as part of the Republican donor base, while the new Web companies and their high-asset employees trend Democratic for reasons, they say, of social conscience.

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