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    Net Neutrality Tag

    Is there anyone who is surprised that the FCC has voted in favor of net neutrality, and that the vote followed party lines? I doubt it. The general trend has been for greater and greater control by agencies in matters that may seem innocuous, technical, and/or unimportant at the time but can have wide-reaching effects, especially when they are followed by ever-expanding restrictions. The net neutrality rules don't sound so bad. And maybe they'll stay that way. But I wouldn't bet a dime on it. Here's the "neutrality" part:
    The Federal Communications Commission today voted to enforce net neutrality rules that prevent Internet providers—including cellular carriers—from blocking or throttling traffic or giving priority to Web services in exchange for payment.
    Trouble is that it gets the camel's nose in the tent (although actually, I suppose the camel's nose was already in the tent):

    FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai has a net neutrality problem---and he's not staying silent about it. Commissioner Pai is leading the charge against Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler's plans to regulate the way we sell and receive internet access. The problem isn't just with the contents of the plan---which are sweeping and expand government power in communications regulation---but with how careful the FCC has been to not release any details to the public before the Commission's February 26 vote.
    “I’ve not been shy about expressing my views on a great many subjects,” Pai said in an interview in his office at FCC headquarters in Washington. “I’ve done my best to make sure that my views are expressed, whether through the spoken word or the pen.” Conspicuously visible on Pai’s desk is Wheeler’s net neutrality proposal, which has been circulated among the FCC commissioners but not released to the public. Pai has repeatedly wielded the bulky document as a prop in media appearances to condemn Wheeler’s plan and to needle the chairman for refusing to publish the text ahead of the FCC’s vote.
    The scandal is the theme of a great new video from Project Internet Freedom: Pai's concerns about the FCC's secrecy aren't misplaced. A new poll by the Progressive Policy Institute shows that not only do Americans want to see the net neutrality plan before it is implemented, they're also not convinced that it will bring helpful change:

    Say hello to the FCC's newly-dubbed "New Rules for Protecting the Open Internet". From The Hill:
    Tom Wheeler, head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), announced Wednesday that he will be circulating to his colleagues the “strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC,” made up of “enforceable, bright-line rules.” The proposal will ban Internet service providers such as Comcast or Verizon from blocking or slowing access to content online. It will also ban “fast lane” deals that speed up online services, and extend the rules to cellphones and tablets for the first time. “My proposal assures the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission,” Wheeler wrote in an op-ed in Wired. The decision by Wheeler is a reversal from last year, when he was pursuing a plan that critics warned could lead to a “two-tiered Internet,” with some companies cutting deals to operate in the “fast lanes.”
    This is a different result than many anticipated; Wheeler had been working for months on a compromise solution that would have maintained "light touch" regulations on internet providers, in sharp contrast with the agenda President Obama backed. The White House threw its full support behind the regulations that were announced today, and ginned up support for them though months of secretive meetings with online activists, startups, and telecomm companies. In a piece for the New Republic, David Dayen explains how liberal activists achieved a serious coup on the issue of Net Neutrality. You should read the whole thing, but this is perhaps the most relevant snippet:

    The next big Congressional standoff may not be over immigration or health care, but how the FCC should be allowed to regulate the internet and internet providers. Back in December, reports surfaced that lawmakers were meeting with industry officials to draft legislation that would prevent the FCC from implementing the aggressive net neutrality regulations touted by President Obama:
    Multiple sources have reported that a bipartisan effort has been under way for several weeks in Congress to draft legislation that would supersede the FCC's efforts while providing a solid legal foundation for enforceable rules after a decade of failed efforts by the commission. This week, Politico reported that Senate Commerce Committee ranking member Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) has been working on a Net neutrality bill with the committee chairman, John Thune (R-S.D.). Nelson told Politico that he and Thune had "talked extensively" about a bill that would solve the FCC's Net neutrality problem without transforming ISPs into public utilities, but that the two "don't have any resolution." "Stay tuned," Nelson told Politico. "It's going to be exciting."
    Congressional urgency isn't misplaced. Yesterday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler "all but confirmed" that the Commission intends to regulate the internet under Title II of the Communications Act, which means that when those new regulations go into effect, the internet will be treated like a public utility.

    Get ready for the next big net neutrality fight, because it's coming sooner than you think. The FCC has released statements indicating that it's ready to decide the future of the internet, and will do so at its February 26th monthly meeting. The Washington Post had it first:
    President Obama's top telecom regulator, Tom Wheeler, told fellow FCC commissioners before the Christmas holiday that he intends to circulate a draft proposal internally next month with an eye toward approving the measure weeks later, said one official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agency's deliberations are ongoing. The rules are meant to keep broadband providers such as Verizon and Comcast from speeding up or slowing down some Web sites compared to others. ... It's still unclear what rules Wheeler has in mind for Internet providers. Analysts and officials close to the agency say that momentum has been building recently for far more aggressive regulations than Wheeler had initially proposed. Advocates of strong net neutrality, including President Obama, have urged the FCC to begin regulating Internet service providers using the same law it uses to oversee telephone companies — Title II of the Communications Act. Industry advocates have resisted that call, saying the FCC should continue to lightly regulate Internet providers under Title I of the act.
    If the vote proceeds as planned, it will mean that the FCC won't have time to process any remaining public comments on the issue. Although public opinion doesn't necessarily determine the outcome of these decisions, conservative groups like TechFreedom and American Commitment have largely dominated the official conversation via comment drives, which means that progressive, pro-net neutrality groups are going to have to take their fight to the mainstream media if they want to improve their optics. Both policy analysts and Republicans in Congress saw this move by the FCC coming, and lawmakers have taken steps to preempt the FCC from making new rules regulating internet providers:

    The tech policy community has momentarily banded together to nail the Federal Communications Commission to the wall over what seems to be a big data meltdown regarding hundreds of thousands of public comments the agency received regarding its Net Neutrality deliberations. Gizmodo has a nice rundown of what we know so far:
    New analysis of the data the FCC recently released about the process shows that the agency lost and/or ignored a whole bunch public comments. How many is a whole bunch? Oh, about 340,000. Fight for the Future, a pro-net neutrality group, just announced a pretty major discrepancy in the number of comments it helped submit. In total, the organization helped drive 777,364 commenters to post on the FCC's antiquated comment site. Fight for the Future CTO Jeff Lyon says that "at least 244,811 [comments] were missing from the data" recently released by the FCC. On top of that, a new Sunlight Foundation study found that 95,000 of the comments the FCC did release were duplicates. ... The Sunlight Foundation admitted that there were some discrepancies in the data. The FCC also admitted to Jeff Lyons that nearly a quarter of a million comments were indeed missing from the data it released. Lyons wondered, "As of right now, the failure point is still unclear: Did the FCC simply fail to export these comments, or did they actually fail to process them in the first place?"
    While we don't yet know the answer to Lyons' question, we do know that pro-Net Neutrality groups were nervous about the pro/con comment breakdown. The Sunlight Foundation released a report accusing "[a] shadowy organization with ties to the Koch Brothers" of skewing the results with a form letter writing campaign, causing pro-NN groups and tech bloggers to cry foul. Why? Probably because conservatives absolutely crushed them when the final comment tally rolled around.

    Net Neutrality has existed for a long time in the nerd-niche of the policy world, but now that Obama has asked the FCC to impose strict new regulations on internet service providers, the issue has jumped out of the shadows and into the forefront of public debate. "Net Neutrality" provisions---new regulations that would use the authority of Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 to prevent internet service providers from granting preferential treatment to different types of online content---are controversial, and have already spurred lawsuits from companies like Verizon who are loathe to cede control of their services to the government, and the FCC is preparing for another onslaught. Via Ars Technica:
    "We are going to be sued," he said in a Q&A after the FCC's monthly meeting. "That's the history. Every time in this whole discussion any time the commission has moved to do something, one of the big dogs has gone to sue... We don’t want to ignore history. We want to come out with good rules that accomplish what we need to accomplish, an open Internet, no blocking, no throttling, no fast lanes, no discrimination, and we want those rules to be in place after a court decision. So we want to be sure we’re thoughtful in the way in which we structure them and we're thoughtful in the way we present what will ultimately be presented to a court." Verizon sued to block rules passed under Wheeler's predecessor, Julius Genachowski, and has already threatened to sue the FCC over new rules under consideration. AT&T has threatened to sue as well.
    Those who support Net Neutrality worry that not having a clear line in the sand will allow large corporations to throttle content from smaller content providers (read: content providers who don't have piles of money to offer up) and create an unequal playing field for the kinds of free speech the internet is so famous for. But as the great people over at Tech Freedom have explained, this desire for a bright line rule ignores the reality and nature of online content:

    Conservative advocacy organizations are using their resources to put muscle behind the growing anti-internet regulation movement. Those on the other side of the issue, who advocate for "Net Neutrality," want to use Title II of the Communications Act as a way of reclassifying broadband internet providers as "utilities." If this reclassification takes place, regulation advocates will be able to enact stricter rules regarding how providers allocate their resources. Conservatives at advocacy groups like American Commitment and Tech Freedom aren't ready to let go of a truly free internet without a fight, though. They've launched new landing pages for the cause, StopInternetRegulation.org and Don't Break the Net, respectively, providing a way for Americans to add their voices to the hundreds of thousands who have already responded to the FCC's comment period on Title II regulations. From American Commitment:
    "Everyone needs to get this story right: on our side are the vast majority of the American people who love the Internet the way it is -- unregulated, supported by private investment in a free economy, competitive, and highly innovative. On the other side are radical left activists, who are seeking political control over the Internet," said Phil Kerpen, president of American Commitment. "This exceptional outpouring of support for true Internet freedom is proof positive that the American people firmly oppose any federal regulation of the Internet."
    The wonks at Tech Freedom have provided a succinct debunking of advocates' arguments for Title II regulation:
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