Monday, September 08, 2014

Media Monopolists Want to Tighten their Grip

Send emails in opposition to internet fast lane for the rich (and a slowdown for the rest of us) by Wednesday September 10th

To Comment on the proposed changes to the Internet rules:  GO TO TO SEND THEM A COMMENT


Editors note: great information in this story, but the newspaper editor's have added in some language to give the impression that it's all a "done deal" and that no one cares.


By Rob Lowman, Los Angeles Daily News

9/8/2014--A major rule change in how companies provide Internet service to the public could fundamentally disrupt online life as we know it, impacting the flow of information, business competition, freedom of speech and everyone’s pocketbook for years to come ­— but no one seems all that concerned. (OH REALLY?)

Under the concept of net neutrality, now under review by the FCC, broadband Internet service providers would have to provide service without discrimination based on content. They also couldn’t impose elaborate tiered pricing systems under which companies like Google or Netflix, for example — and therefore their customers — would have to pay higher prices to get their content delivered at the fastest speeds. Others who don’t pay more would see delivery of their content deliberately slowed down.

If left alone, ISPs like Comcast or Verizon would be able to control speed on the Internet in the future, creating fast lanes for those willing to pay for it.

In the Federal Communication Commission’s first 60-day commentary period, barely 1 million people had registered their thoughts about it. In 2004, Janet Jackson’s less than a half-second nipple slip at the Super Bowl received some 1.4 million unsolicited comments.

The next commentary period runs through Wednesday.

Earlier this summer, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a speech that the commission is planning to promote more high-speed Internet service choices and protect competition for consumers.

“There is an inverse relationship between competition and the kind of broadband performance that consumers are increasingly demanding,” Wheeler said. “This is not tolerable.”

He cited Commerce Department statistics that an overwhelming majority of homes have no choice among providers. Wheeler also pointed to the long-distance market of the 1990s when users could switch from one carrier to another as an example of “a truly competitive telecommunications marketplace.”

Wheeler did not reveal what steps the FCC might take or what this might mean for the pending Comcast takeover of Time Warner Cable.

Earlier this year, a district court struck down the FCC’s 2010 order intending to prevent broadband ISPs from blocking or interfering with traffic on the Web. In May, the FCC voted 3-2 to open public debate on new rules meant to guarantee an open Internet but with some additional caveats. The new provisions are similar to the old in that they are meant to prevent cable companies from knowingly slowing down anyone’s data.

That should ensure all content running on the Internet is treated equally, except the new rules also allow for giant cable and Internet companies like Comcast, Time-Warner, AT&T and Verizon to create fast lanes for those who can pay.

Some companies are already doing so.

At the end of last year, Netflix subscribers complained of sluggish downloads as they waited for movies and shows like “House of Cards.” The streaming giant claimed Comcast, the country’s largest cable and broadband provider, was slowing download times.

Comcast denied the claims, and said a second party Netflix was using was slowing the downloads. It wanted the streaming company to go through them directly.

Though they complained publicly about having to do it, Netflix quickly signed a deal in February with Comcast to ensure faster speeds for its customers. It then went on to sign similar ones with Verizon and AT&T.

Ten days before the Netflix deal, Comcast made a $45 billion bid to buy Time Warner Cable. In an April letter to stockholders, Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix, was still angry about the Comcast deal and came out in opposition to the merger, saying that the new company would “possess even more anti-competitive leverage to charge arbitrary interconnection tolls for access to their customers.”

Comcast countered with the statement: “There has been no company that has had a stronger commitment to openness of the Internet than Comcast.”

If Internet superhighways are created for a fee, it won’t be just Netflix, which recently hit 50 million subscribers, joining the fast lane. Other companies able to pay — Amazon, Google and Facebook — aren’t going to be left behind.

At risk are small or new businesses who won’t be able to pay superhighway speeds and consumers who will face a choice of how much they are willing to pay for speedy Internet access. At the time of the Netflix-Comcast deal, Tim Wu, the Columbia University professor who first coined the phrase net neutrality, likened it to water in the basement for the Internet industry. He told the New York Times, “I think it is going to be bad for consumers,” believing costs will likely be passed onto them. In Netflix’s case, the firm announced price hikes.

If the merger between Comcast and Time Warner occurs, the new company would have 19 of the country’s top 20 cable markets. Estimates say the mega-company would then control around 40 percent of the high-speed Internet market.

Some believe that ISPs —like Comcast — should be reclassified as a utility, and regulated like electricity. Comcast spent nearly a quarter of the 74-page document it submitted as comment to the FCC arguing against that.

The commission had once deemed ISPs as “information services,” like websites. But in the decision earlier this year the court said the FCC lacked authority to enforce its existing net neutrality rules because it hadn’t classified broadband providers as “telecommunications services.” That would make them more like telephone companies, who own their lines like ISPs but are required to lease them to other companies if a customer opts for another firm’s service.

The FCC still has the power under the 1996 Telecommunications Act to reclassify them, and that worries ISPs. AT&T and Verizon have also weighed in against the possibility in their comments to the FCC.

While everyone seems to argue for some form of net neutrality, the Internet Association, which represents about three dozen Web companies such as Google, Netflix and Amazon, opposes the idea of fast lanes. Such rules would undoubtedly cement charging more for higher speeds as a business practice.

“We are dedicated to protecting and preserving an open Internet,” the FCC’s Wheeler said before the vote in May. A former chief lobbyist for the cable industry who was appointed by President Obama, Wheeler cast the swing vote, joining the two Democratic commissioners in opening the rules to debate.

With so much of commerce dependent on the Internet, should we leave the pipes unregulated or in the hands of profit-motivated companies? Or does the solution lie somewhere in between?

Some argue that dividing content into those who can afford fast lanes — whether businesses or political PACs — is a threat to freedom. On the Internet, milliseconds are important. Most people usually don’t go deep into searches on the Web. If users are subtlety directed toward certain sites, eventually that could have an impact not only on what we buy but what we think. Without rules, ISPs can become gatekeepers. Comcast, which wants little regulation, argues in its comments to the FCC that it wouldn’t restrict access because it “would incur substantial subscriber losses and reputational harm.” Essentially, they say they won’t do it because it would cost them money.

Anyone following the news already knows there are privacy concerns to be addressed. There are also concerns about “search neutrality,” which is the idea that search results should be free of social, political, or financial agendas. Right now there is nothing in place to maintain “search neutrality.” If companies like Amazon and Google — who determine relevance in search results — join the fast lane, it’s likely to increase their influence.

Wu is so worried about it that he is running for the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of New York, hoping to help create legislation to keep such companies in check.

You can still weigh in on the “net neutrality” rules. The giant cable and Internet companies have already, plus they have Capitol Hill lobbyists. Comcast ranked fifth among all organizations in U.S. government lobbying spending last year, according to the Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. Google, AT&T and Verizon are also among the top spenders.

To make a comment on any current matter before the FCC, go to 

Monday, September 01, 2014

You Can't Beat 'em If You Can't Join 'em

Cable Giants Try to Limit Cities' Internet Service

By Neal Colgrass, Newser Staff

Posted Aug 30, 2014

(Newser) – Municipalities, take note: US Telecom, a group representing cable giants like Time Warner and Comcast is pressing US officials to stop two cities from expanding high-speed Internet services, the Guardian reports.

Those cities—Chattanooga, TN, and Wilson, NC—are already providing unusually fast 1GB-per-second service to residents. Chattanooga's broadband helped trigger a tech boom, and Wilson's reached people who were complaining about the quality and cost of Time Warner service. Now each city wants to expand service into a wider area, the Wall Street Journal reports.

US Telecom's lobbyists are urging the FCC not to let cities work around laws designed to protect private broadband companies (20 states have such laws, the Verge notes).

US Telecom is also arguing in a blog ( that public broadband has "a mixed record, with numerous examples of failures"—and it's true that a group of Utah towns had to sell its service to Google for $1 after failing to make enough money. So, is municipal broadband anti-competitive? Cable companies say subsidies give cities an unfair leg up, while cities argue that they are improving competition in their areas. (On the lighter side, read about the Comcast "call from hell.")