FCC Shifts Position on Net Regulation

NEW PROPOSAL ALLOWS PRICE DISCRIMINATION, THREATENS OPEN INTERNET

BY SERENA IMANI KORN

A new proposal of Internet regulation from the Federal Communications Commission could threaten the notion of an open and equal internet, known as net neutrality.

The new proposed guidelines from the FCC allow content companies, like Netflix, to pay Internet service providers, like Comcast, for faster, high quality transmission lanes. This creates a system of differentiated prices for different quality of connections between content and service providers.

The FCC will consider the proposal on May 15, and is accepting public comment now, according to the FCC website. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former telecom lobbyist, said “It is my intention to conclude this proceeding and have enforceable rules by the end of the year.”

If approved, this set of regulations could change the way consumers receive Internet content.

Those who defend net neutrality, and at one point the FCC, argue that allowing companies to pay for better transmission to users could tip the scales toward wealthier companies and content would no longer be equal.

The recent proposal is a shift from the FCC’s former position, which originally pushed to limit this broadband price discrimination.

The FCC adopted its “Open Internet” rules in 2010, claiming that the Internet should be a level playing field where consumers can make fair and informed decisions about what content they want to access and which services they want to use. They emphasized the role of Internet for innovation and claimed that equal access to promote and develop diverse ideas is essential to this innovation. “This was to be our town square of democracy. This was to be our opportunity-creating technology to open doors to a more profitable future.,” said Michael Copps, former FCC member who retired in 2012. [one_third][box_light]

Contact the FCC or your State Representatives:

FCC and Chairman Tom Wheeler:

openinternet@fcc.gov

This is filed as a document for official FCC proceedings and all information in the email, including names and addresses, will be public.

Call Chairman Wheeler and FCC: 1-202-418-1000

Washington Represenatives:

Senator Maria Cantwell (D)

(202) 224-3441

Email contact

Senator Patty Murray (D)

(202) 224-2621

Email contact

Olympia Representative:

Congress person Denny Heck (D)

Washington DC office: 202-225-9740

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Copps recently spoke on Democracy Now about the proposal and Internet equality. He said the issue of upholding net neutrality is about ensuring that the Internet, “the most transformative communications technology in all of history,” serves the people and consumers.

“We are playing very fast and very loose with it right now, turning it into the playground of the few and turning it over to big companies, consolidated companies, that are able to exact tolls for content producers and their friends and the people who can afford to pay for those fast lanes,” Copps said. “What you’re really seeing here is kind of a transformation of the Internet where 1 percent get the fast lanes and the 99 percent get the slow lanes.”

A key concern about allowing broadband price discrimination is that the wealthier corporations will be able to buy up the best lanes, and other content providers will only be able to transmit to users through the slower lanes. This affects the content users have easier access to. A corporation like News Corp., which owns Fox News, The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and 32 percent part of Hulu, could purchase fast transmission lanes, allowing quicker access to the information they provide. This is good if a user wants to access that information. But concerns are that News Corp. is a wealthy company and other, less wealthy content providers would not have equal access to consumers.

In January, the DC Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC has no legal right to apply restrictions on broadband price discrimination.

“We have no rules right this minute,” Copps said. “Anybody can block content, slow down, speed up, favor who they want to favor and all the rest.”

The courts have solidified the FCC’s rights to demand transparency and to define whether Internet is a telecommunications service or an information service, a right originally granted to the FCC through the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Telecom services face more restrictions to more equally serve the people. In 2002, the FCC declared it an information service, blocking it from strict regulation.

“We had common carriage obligations for the telephone lines, where telephone landlines could not discriminate. They couldn’t deny anyone service. They had to serve all,” Astra Taylor said on Democracy Now, alongside Copps.

If the FCC redefined the web as a telecom service, they could legally apply restrictions on broadband price discrimination. The FCC decided in February not to seek this reclassification, and the new proposal does not address this issue.

Wheeler said the new proposal does not “gut the open Internet rule,” but upholds net neutrality in line with the court’s ruling.

In a blog post on the FCC’s website, Wheeler wrote “The Court of Appeals made it clear that the FCC could stop harmful conduct if it were found to not be ‘commercially reasonable.’ Acting within the constraints of the Court’s decision, the Notice will propose rules that establish a high bar for what is ‘commercially reasonable.’” Wheeler added that “the Commission believes it has the authority under Supreme Court precedent to identify behavior that is flatly illegal.”

Wheeler and the FCC are accepting direct public comment at openinternet@fcc.gov.

The Website warns: “You will be filing a document into an official FCC proceeding. All information submitted, including names and addresses, will be publicly available via the web.”

The American Civil Liberties Union and Free Press have both launched campaigns to fight the proposal. The Free Press website said “People everywhere understand that the Internet is a crucial driver of free speech, innovation, education, economic growth, creativity and so much more. They demand real Net Neutrality rules that protect Internet users from corporate abuse.” Freepress.net has an option to sign a petition to be sent to Chairman Wheeler, arguing to maintain net neutrality, as well as the information and script to call Wheeler’s office.

The ACLU website outlines key questions about net neutrality and open Internet. They state that “if the government doesn’t act soon, this open internet—and the ‘network neutrality’ principles that sustain it—could be a thing of the past. Profits and corporate disfavor of controversial viewpoints or competing services could change both what you can see on the Internet and the quality of your connection.” They also provide the option to sign an ACLU petition in defense of net neutrality to be sent to Wheeler.

State representatives can also be contacted about this issue, regardless of stance. The U.S. Senate website, www.senate.gov, has an accessible, easy to use contact list of all U.S. senators. The search instantly provides a phone number for each state senator and you can click through to their website for more information. The House of Representatives website has a “Find Your Representative” tool, which only requires your zip code to locate your congress member. You can click directly to send an email, or visit their website for contact information.