The Times’ lawsuit follows reporting by Gizmodo that exposed multiple attempts by the FCC to manufacture stories about hackers attacking its comment system. In reality, the Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) crashed, both in 2015 and 2017, after Last Week Tonight host John Oliver instructed millions of his viewers to flood the agency with pro-net neutrality comments.
For over a year, the FCC claimed to have proof that distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks were behind the comment system issues. In August 2018, however, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai finally admitted that wasn’t true. After an inspector general report found no evidence of an attack, Pai sought to pin the blame on his staff—and, for some reason, former President Barack Obama.
Pai stated in an agency memo in 2018 that it was a “fact” that Russian accounts were behind the half-million comments. His attorneys, meanwhile, were arguing the exact opposite in court.
In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the Republican-led commission decided to eliminate the current net neutrality rules and remove the shackles that prevent ISPs from blocking online content, slowing a competitor’s website, or charging you extra just to access YouTube. (You can read the dissenting opinions here.) It paves the way for an ISP free-for-all, baby, and you can bet telecom executives have plenty of lucrative plans in mind that we haven’t even considered.
with each new victory for the American telecommunications oligopoly, that digital optimism fades further from view.
Net neutrality protections are essentially safeguards that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from interfering with the internet. Net neutrality gives the FCC the regulatory authority to prevent ISPs like Comcast and Verizon from slowing down or blocking certain types of content. It also prevents them from offering what’s known as paid prioritization, where an ISP could let particular websites or content creators pay more for faster streaming and download times. With paid prioritization an ISP could shake down a company like Netflix or an individual website owner, coercing them to pay more in order to be in the fast lane.
Net neutrality often gets treated as a sort of technocratic squabble over ownership and control of internet pipes. But in fact it speaks to a core social contract between government, corporations, and the public. What it really comes down to is, how can members of the public obtain information and services, and express ourselves creatively and politically, without interference from massive corporations?
Should we think of the internet as a good, a service, an infrastructure, or something else?
It’s all of the above.
The internet has been radically privatized. It wasn’t inevitable, but through policy decisions over the years, the internet has become increasingly commodified. Meanwhile it’s really difficult to imagine living in modern society without fast internet services — it’s no longer a luxury but a necessity for everything ranging from education to health to livelihood. The “digital divide” is a phrase that sounds like it’s from the 1990s, but it’s still very relevant. Somewhere around one fifth of American households don’t have access to wireline broadband services. It’s a social problem. We should be thinking about the internet as a public service and subsidizing it to make sure that everyone has access.
In your recent book on media democracy, you discuss the rise of what you call “corporate libertarianism.” What is corporate libertarianism and how does it relate to net neutrality?
Corporate libertarianism is an ideological project that has origins at a core moment in the 1940s. It sees corporations as having individual freedoms, like those in the First Amendment, which they can use to shield themselves from public interest oversight and regulation. It’s also often connected to this assumption that the government should never intervene in markets, and media markets in particular. (My note: Milton Friedman)
Of course, this is a libertarian mythology — the government is always involved. The question ought to be how it should be involved. Under corporate libertarianism it’s assumed that the government should only be involved in ways that enhance profit maximization for communication oligopolies.
There are clear dangers associated with vertical integration, where the company that owns the pipes is able to control the dissemination of information, and able to set the terms by which we access that information.
There have been cases like this already. In 2005, the company Telus, which is the second largest telecommunications company in Canada, began blocking access to a server that hosted a website that supported a labor strike against Telus.
Net neutrality is just one part of the story. What other regulations, policies and interventions could resist corporate control of the internet?
Roughly half of Americans live in communities that have access to only one ISP. My note: Ha Ha Ha, “pick me, pick me,” as Dori from “Finding Nemo” will say… Charter, whatever they will rename themselves again, is the crass example in Central MN.
Strategies to contain and confront monopolies:
break them up, and to prevent monopolies and oligopolies from happening in the first place by blocking mergers and acquisitions.
if we’re not going to outright nationalize them then we want to heavily regulate them, and enforce some kind of social contract where they’re compelled to provide a public service in exchange for the right to operate.
create public alternatives, like municipal wireless networks that can circumvent and compete with corporate monopolies. There’s a growing number of these publicly owned and governed internet infrastructures, and building more is crucial.
Jeff Kao Data Scientist, Software Engineer, Language Nerd, Biglaw Refugee. jeffykao.com
More than a Million Pro-Repeal Net Neutrality Comments were Likely Faked
The Federal Communications Commission released a plan on Tuesday to dismantle landmark regulations that ensure equal access to the internet, clearing the way for internet service companies to charge users more to see certain content and to curb access to some websites.
The proposal, made by the F.C.C. chairman, Ajit Pai, is a sweeping repeal of rules put in place by the Obama administration. The rules prohibit high-speed internet service providers, or I.S.P.s, from stopping or slowing down the delivery of websites. They also prevent the companies from charging customers extra fees for high-quality streaming and other services.
FCC chairman defends net neutrality repeal plan
An analysis of the millions of comments conducted by the data company Gravwell in October found that just 17.4 percent of the comments to the FCC on the net neutrality rules came from real people.
Because many internet services for mobile devices include limits on data use, the changes will be visible there first. In one dramatic scenario, internet services would begin to resemble cable-TV packages, where subscriptions could be limited to a few dozen sites and services. Or, for big spenders, a few hundred. Fortunately, that’s not a likely scenario. Instead, expect a gradual shift towards subscriptions that provide unlimited access to certain preferred providers while charging extra for everything else.
Even Verizon’s “unlimited” plans impose limits. The company’s cheapest unlimited mobile plan limits video streaming quality to 480p resolution, which is DVD quality, on phones and 720p resolution, the lower tier of HD quality, on tablets. Customers can upgrade to a more expensive plan that enables 720p resolution on phones and 1080p on tablets, but the higher quality 4K video standard is effectively forbidden.
Meanwhile, Comcast customers in 28 states face 1 terabyte data caps. Going over that limit costs subscribers as much as an additional $50 a month. As 4K televisions become more common, more households may hit the limit. That could prompt some to stick with a traditional pay-TV package from Comcast.
Republican FCC Chair Ajit Pai argues that Federal Trade Commission will be able to protect consumers and small business from abuses by internet providers once the agency’s current rules are off the books. But that’s not clear.
The good news is the internet won’t change overnight, if it all. Blake Reid, a clinical professor at Colorado Law, says the big broadband providers will wait to see how the inevitable legal challenges to the new FCC order shakeout. They’ll probably keep an eye on 2018 and even 2020 elections as well.
Antitrust laws only go so far when addressing companies that don’t produce any physical goods. It is time to negotiate a new set of rules. Otherwise, our future economy will be dominated by just a few companies.
There are still people out there who think that Amazon is nothing more than an online version of a department store. But it’s much more than that: It is a rapidly growing, global internet giant that is changing the way we shop, conquering more and more markets, using Alexa to suck up our personal data straight out of our living rooms and currently seeking access to our front door keys so it can deliver packages even when nobody’s home.
It wasn’t that long ago that EU efforts to limit the power of Google and Amazon on the European market were decried in the U.S. as protectionism, as an attempt by the Europeans to protect their own inferior digital economy. Now, though, politicians and economists in the U.S. have even begun discussing the prospect of breaking up the internet giants. The mood has shifted.
The digital economy, by contrast, is based on algorithms and its most powerful companies don’t produce any physical products. Customers receive their services free of charge, paying only with their data. The more customers a service provider attracts, the more attractive it becomes to new customers, who then deliver even more data – which is why Google and Facebook need not fear new competition.
first of all, the power of a company, and the abuse of that power, must be redefined. We cannot allow a situation in which these extremely large companies can swallow up potential rivals before they can even begin to develop. As such, company acquisitions must be monitored much more strictly than they currently are and, if need be, blocked.
Second, it must be determined who owns the data collected – whether, for example, it should also be made available to competitors or whether consumers should receive more in exchange than simply free internet search results.
Third, those disseminating content cannot be allowed to reject responsibility for that content. Demonstrably false claims and expressions of hate should not be tolerated.
And finally, those who earn lots of money must also pay lots of taxes – and not just back home but in all the countries where they do business.