Tag Archives: net neutrality

Mignon Clyburn Resigning from FCC Post

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn

After eight years Mignon Clyburn, the only African-American on the FCC board of commissioners is stepping down. Clyburn, the daughter of James Clyburn, member of the U.S. House of Representatives  for South Carolina’s 6th Congressional District was appointed by President Barack Obama. Recently Clyburn fought valiantly against the repeal of net neutrality put in place during the Obama administration. Current commissioner, Ajit Pai, successfully killed net neutrality by repealing the Open Internet Order that reclassified telecoms as utilities under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

Clyburn briefly served as the FCC’s first female chairperson in 2013 before Obama appointee Tom Wheeler stepped in as chairman. With Wheeler, Clyburn pushed the FCC to pass the strictest net neutrality rules to date.

During her time on the commission Clyburn worked to secure the middle ground of both pro-competition and pro-consumer regulation. She fought for and achieved the unlocking of smartphones, Internet access for low-income and minority communities, and per-minute rate caps on long-distance phone calls for prison inmates. In addition she advocated for diversity in media ownership and emphasized diversity and inclusion in STEM opportunities.  

Before joining the FCC Clyburn spent 11 years as a member of the Public Service Commission (PSC) of South Carolina. Prior to that she was the publisher and general manager of the Coastal Times a family-founded newspaper that focused on issues affecting the African-American community. Clyburn is a graduate of the University of South Carolina.

 

Net Neutrality War Rages On!

On April 23rd of 2018 net neutrality will die. The FCC ruling will take affect and the Internet as we know it will change dramatically. There is a lot that could happen between now and then so the war against the ruling rages on.

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong

Lies were told.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is investigating claims that millions of comments provided to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in support of the repeal were fake. The GAO is looking into the claim that the comments were made by bots impersonating real people.

One study estimated that removing the fake comments left 98.5 percent majority against the FCC’s repeal. According to Emprata.com “The lack of user authentication by the Electronic Comments Filing System (ECFS) makes it difficult to determine ‘genuine’ comment submissions.”

Emprata.com also pointed out that, “9.93 million comments were filed from submissions listing the same physical address and email, indicating that many entities filed multiple comments. This was more prevalent in comments against repeal of Title II (accounting for 82% of the total duplicates), with a majority of duplicate comments associated with email domains from FakeMailGenerator.com.”

ARS Technica did an analysis of the comments and found that hundreds of comments were filed with identical time stamps. Other evidence indicated that others were posted at a steady rate, “unlike the way humans would send in comments.” Others were considered suspicious because the were in all caps indicating they may have been generated or submitted from a database.

The fake comments were so blatant and obvious that even Barack Obama of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was listed as commenting in favor of repealing net neutrality.

The FCC, under the command of Ajit Pai has steadfastly refused to investigate this evidence or hear from others who have complained of the fake comments.

Another lie that came from the net neutrality war was that the Obama administration put pressure on the FCC to maintain net neutrality. The FCC’s own investigation proved otherwise. Motherboard.com obtained a copy of the investigation’s findings via the Freedom of Information Act. Reaching back to 2015 FCC investigators reviewed at least 600,000 emails from all five commissioners seeking evidence indicating the Obama White House pressured the FCC. The report’s final summary reads as follows;

“In conclusion, we found no evidence of secret deals, promises or threats from anyone outside the Commission, nor any evidence of any other improper use of power to influence the FCC decision-making process. To the contrary, it appears that to the extent entities outside of the Commission sought to influence the process, the positions were made known in the record, in full view of all.”

The rebellion inside the FCC.

As you probably already know the Democratic members of the FCC have been vociferous about their opposition to the repeal of net neutrality. But they are not alone among those inside the FCC who oppose the ruling.

The FCC’s own Chief Technology Officer, Eric Burger, who was appointed by Chairman Pai in October, pointed out that the repeal could allow internet service providers (ISP) to block or throttle specific websites. In an email Burger said “Unfortunately, I realize we do not address that at all. Burger went on to say, “If the ISP is transparent about blocking legal content, there is nothing the Federal Trade Commission can do about it unless the FTC determines it was done for anti-competitive reasons. Allowing such blocking is not in the public interest.”

States Rebel

Regardless of the FCC effort to rollback net neutrality it appears that states have declared an open rebellion to the new rule. According to the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution federal law wins if state laws conflict with federal laws. But several states have take it upon themselves to fight for net neutrality Supremacy Clause be damned!

Currently more that half of the states are setting their own net neutrality protections. California, New York, Montana, Hawaii, and Vermont have all passed legislation that is intended to protect net neutrality. According to the FCC states aren’t allowed to pass their own net neutrality laws.  But that hasn’t stopped them. At least 21 states have sued the FCC to restore its original rules.

Most recently Nebraska, a state glowing Republican red, has also struck back at the the ruling. State Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) introduced legislation to establish net neutrality regulations in law on the state level.  Morfeld’s bill prevents broadband providers from slowing down or blocking internet content and from cutting deals with content companies to give them faster connection speeds. It should be noted that this is just a bill and not yet law.

In Montana the governor, Steve Bullock, a Democrat, issued an executive order in January making ISPs who do not observe net neutrality ineligible for state contracts. This move is intended to preserve net neutrality in the state without passing any law that violates the Supremacy Clause. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a similar order.

Currently there are 21 states and various interest groups that have launched legal challenges to the FCC ruling. In Congress there are currently 50 votes to block the net neutrality rule, one short of the number needed to stop it. The war rages on.

Breaking It Down.

If anyone thinks that the end of net neutrality is near think again. This issue will be fought all the way into the mid-term elections and even the next presidential election. There are just too many questions around the legitimacy of the decision. For such an unpopular decision to take affect is mind boggling. Even if the decision stands, which I doubt very seriously, the states are basically going to undermine it. They have already begun to institute rules forcing the ISP to disregard the new FCC ruling. It it won’t stop there. The big telecoms are playing a game of chicken with the market. Let me explain. The big ISPs and cell service providers were living fat and happy with the cellphone market firmly in their grasp. The had consumers locked up with long term contracts and high rates. Then along came the little guys with a better deal. They were forced to bow to market pressure and now the rates are pretty cheap and the contracts are gone. Same for cable television. They got too expensive and now everybody is cutting the cord. The Internet is the only game left in the telecommunications sector. The big ISPs can start throttling data or blocking websites if they want to. But how long before some small company starts screaming, “NO THROTTLING AND NO BLOCKED WEBSITES!  in their advertising. And before long the game is back where it started. What I am saying is that big ISPs are going to fold. There will be a lot more and a lot smaller ISPs taking over the market soon. The big companies need to move on to something else.

 

 

 

Congress, the Courts and Net Neutrality

The war for net neutrality has moved to the halls of Congress and the courtroom. Attorneys generals from 21 states and the District of Columbia have filed suit to overturn the FCC‘s new rules on net neutrality. But the battle is not just the states against the FCC. Technology companies and public interest groups have also filed law suits. Firefox browser maker Mozilla, the public-interest group Free Press and New America’s Open Technology Institute have all taken up the battle for net neutrality. Other major tech-industry companies including Facebook, Google and Netflix are getting in the fight along with other lobbying groups. 

The lawsuit, led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was kicked off in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. The petition asks the court to overturn the the FCC’s decision claiming the rule is “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion” under the law. The suit also argues that the the FCC improperly reclassified broadband as a Title I information service, rather than a Title II service, because of  “an erroneous and unreasonable interpretation” of communications law. Title II services, also known as common carriers, are subject to greater regulation.

An example of a Title II service would be the U.S. Postal Service. The post office can’t deny service to people sending letters it disagrees with. Another example is the phone company. The phone company can’t refuse service to people based on their religious views. Everyone has the same right to pay to use the service. Until now ISPs were considered common carriers.

The lawsuits are a multi-faceted battle to preserve net-neutrality. In congress Democrats are working to undo the new rule. Democrats in the Senate announced that they were just one vote shy of winning a vote to restore Obama era net neutrality rules. All 49 Democrats have agreed to vote for the repeal of the new Internet regulations. On the Republican side Senator Susan Collins of Maine supports the action.  That leaves Democrats searching for the final Republican to cross the party line and join them. The idea is not so far fetched since the net neutrality issue is a hot button issue for young people and the mid-term elections are approaching.

“Given how quickly we have gotten 50, we have a real chance of succeeding,” said Senator minority leader Chuck Schumer of New York in a statement.

Even if the Democrats succeed in getting the votes the rules does not automatically change. The same bill would have to be introduced and passed in the House of Representatives. That body is controlled by the Republicans and House Speaker Paul Ryan could simply refuse to bring it to the floor for a vote.

Finally, there is Donald Trump. He has to sign the bill to reverse the FCC action. Although the White House has publicly said it supports the the FCC move Trump has never been sure what he wants to do about net neutrality.

According to his own tweets Trump was all in for net neutrality in 2014. Trump criticized Obama for attacking the Internet, and defended net neutrality as “the Fairness Doctrine.” Now that has changed and he is all for the new rules.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Net Neutrality: The War is Not Over!

The war for net neutrality is not over. Far from it, it’s just beginning. The latest move by the FCC, headed by Ajit Pai, is just the latest battle in a war that will eventually end up in the Supreme Court.

Pai and Republican members of the FCC voted to repeal Obama era rules meant to keep the Internet free and open to all. This is a critical moment in the history of the Internet.  The commoditization of information has taken a step forward. Pai and other pro-business Republicans claim the Obama administration had hijacked the Internet hindering innovation. The new FCC rules mean what you can access now depends how how much Internet you can afford. But defenders of the open Internet have taken up the call for battle.

States get involved.

Already one state has begun to fight for net neutrality within its borders. California, the home of Silicon Valley, has begun the process to enforce in-state net neutrality. State Senator Scott Wiener announced plans to introduce California’s own net neutrality rules. Wiener is considering the best regulatory options with plans to introduce a law early next year. Wiener wrote in Hackernoon, “By repealing net neutrality requirements, the Trump-controlled FCC is allowing Internet service providers to decide which websites will be easily accessible and which won’t. Providers are now free to manipulate web traffic on their networks, which means they can speed up or slow down traffic to certain sites and even block access.”

Weiner is contemplating requiring cable companies to accept state net neutrality laws as part of their agreement for doing business in California. California is one the world’s biggest economies and his action, if passed in a powerfully Democratic state, would force ISPs to accept net neutrality laws.

New York is also joining the battle. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced that he will sue the FCC to stop the new net neutrality laws. Schneiderman tweeted; “ll be leading a multi-state lawsuit bringing the resources of AGs across the country to bear in the fight to protect the Internet and the millions of Americans who rely on it.”

It’s unknown how many other states will be joining Schneiderman but several states joined a letter calling for a delay of the vote due to evidence of fake comments during the public feedback process. That letter included the signatures of 18 attorneys general from the states of Virginia, Delaware, Hawaii, California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Iowa, Illinois, Maryland, Maine, Mississippi, Oregon, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Washington, Vermont and the District of Columbia. Schneiderman says he is expecting others to join that group.

Congress may act.

Member of congress could take action as well to stop the rule change. Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), Congress is empowered to issue a resolution of disapproval that overrules the FCC’s decision. But don’t expect that to happen quickly if at all. The CRA only gives Congress a 60 day window in which to act. Any action must have presidential support or backing from two-thirds of the House and Senate. That has yet to be seen and Trump can’t decide if he likes net neutrality or not.

Democratic legislators Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusettes  and Rep. Mike Doyle of Pennsylvania have introduced a resolution of disapproval after the FCC vote. Markey has already followed through with the support of 17 other Senators. Doyle said in statement, “I’ve tried repeatedly to convince Chairman Pai to abandon his plans to dismantle the Open Internet Order, most recently by organizing a letter from 118 Members of Congress urging him not to take this vote. And now that the FCC has voted to kill net neutrality and give ISPs a green light to control access to the Internet, I will introduce legislation under the Congressional Review Act to overturn the order and restore net neutrality.”

Doyle is not the only member of Congress that Pai simply ignored before voting to repeal net neutrality. Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Angus King, an Independent also from Maine  sent a last-minute letter asking Pai to cancel the net neutrality vote. “Repealing the FCC’s net neutrality rules will undermine long-standing protections that that have ensured the open internet as a powerful and transformative platform of innovation and economic opportunity,” they wrote. “We respectfully ask that the commission cancel the vote on the proposed order as scheduled and give Congress and the FCC the time to hold public hearings in 2018.” As you know Pai went ahead with the vote.

Not all Republicans are on board with the new net neutrality rules. Of the 239 Republicans in the House 107 have voiced their support for ending net neutrality. The position of the remaining members is not currently known. Some Republican lawmakers have been critical about the FCC’s process without specifically calling for a delay. Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota believes net neutrality belongs in the hands of lawmakers, not the FCC.

Next Battle Field: The Courts.

This battle is headed for the courts. Several advocacy groups, lacking faith in a Republican controlled Congress, are plotting their strategies to take on Pai and the FCC.

Critics claim they have a number of reasons to sue. These groups may argue that because the rule change comes only two years after Obama put them in place the decision is arbitrary.

Supporters of net neutrality are also arguing that ISPs should continue to be treated as Internet pipes or conduit that only carry data. This data includes movies and videos from major content providers like Netflix and Facebook updates. Advocates also argue that the FCC is wrong to categorize ISPs as as content providers, which are far less regulated. At least three public interest groups, Public Knowledge, Common Cause and FreePress are preparing to sue.

The Internet Association, a trade group and that counts Alphabet Inc., parent company of Google, Facebook Inc., and Pandora Media Inc. as members said it was reviewing Pai’s order “and weighing our legal options.”

Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge Harold Feld argues that Pai’s plan to re-categorize ISPs from common carriers, regulated as a public utility, to more lightly regulated “information services” will fail in court. Feld believes that the primary role of ISPs is delivering content. As carriers of data they are not offering email or online storage.”Their description of how the Internet service provider works is …. not true,” said Feld.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Net Neutrality: The Social Justice Issue of Our Time

Originally Posted by PublicKnowledge.org

 

By Willmary Escoto

Democracy has become a daily visceral online experience. When Philando Castile was shot by a Minnesota police officer his girlfriend’s first instinct was to start broadcasting. Diamond Reynolds chose to live-stream the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live, sharing the graphic cries of her four-year-old daughter with over 3.2 million viewers. Live streaming is transforming the growth of citizen journalism, providing a distressing view of shootings like these, and empowering citizens to share their story without the fear of censorship.

The apparent perpetuation of racial injustice in America is not new to minorities. One of the most important democratizing effects of an open internet is its emancipatory impact on underrepresented groups. It enables impoverished communities to bring to light the social injustices that were once in the shadows. The expansion of this movement and its capability to respond rapidly and effectively to the brutal and biased policing of Black, Latino, LGBT, and other minority groups depends, in part, on access to a non-discriminatory internet. The internet plays a critical role in the dissemination of information and services specifically tailored for people of color and other marginalized groups, including LGBT people, because it provides the opportunity for us to tell our own stories and to organize for racial and social justice. That empowerment relies on an open internet and net neutrality.

Net neutrality prevents Internet Service Providers from interfering with, blocking, or discriminating against Web content. Unfortunately, in April 2017, current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced plans to undo those rules and strip consumers of those critical online protections. Chairman Pai specifically proposed to remove the internet’s classification as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act.

Digital advocacy groups who oppose Chairman Pai’s proposal fear his approach will empower giant ISP gatekeepers and jeopardize net neutrality and free speech for disadvantaged populations, including people of color living in low-income communities who depend on equitable high-speed internet to tell their stories. Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Hispanic Media Coalition‘s affirmed that:

“Dismantling net neutrality opens the door for corporations to limit free expression, organizing efforts, educational opportunities and entrepreneurship by imposing a new tool to access information online. […]For Latinos and other people of color, who have long been misrepresented or underrepresented by traditional media outlets, an open Internet is the primary destination for our communities to share our stories in our own words—without being blocked by powerful gatekeepers motivated by profit.”

According to David Uberti of the Columbia Journalism Review:

“In most cases […] law enforcement’s point of view tends to dominate stories, as eyewitnesses might not be available or willing to talk, and victims – in the most violent cases – might be severely injured or dead. But smartphone video footage is changing the dynamic in a growing number of instances.”

The egalitarian quality of an open and accessible internet furthers the fundamental goals of civic engagement and free speech. The Black Lives Matter movement started with a simple hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter, and it has transformed the dialogue surrounding police brutality and inequality. In an article in the Hill, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors said:

“Black Twitter broke the story of the murder of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri by police officer Darren Wilson, while consolidated broadcast and cable industries lagged behind. From unarmed Black father John Crawford, murdered by police in an Ohio Walmart, to Aiyana Stanley-Jones, a Black 7-year-old murdered by police while she slept in her home—the open Internet allowed Black communities to tell these stories with our own voices.”

The audiovisual truth of Alton Sterling and Eric Garner’s public executions were undeniable and accessible because of the current net neutrality rules in place. ISPs are unable to control Twitter dissent, or block profiles reporting police brutality and access to video footage, thanks to the net neutrality. Activists can turn to the internet to circumvent cable, broadcast, mainstream, and print outlets improper characterizations  of disenfranchised and marginalized communities, because of an open and accessible internet. The current rules safeguard disadvantaged communities of color and America’s poor by ensuring that internet providers – upon whom we all rely to have our voices heard – treats all data on the internet the same.

In 2017, it is not just one movement, but every purpose that benefits from the ability to vibrantly and rapidly spread their message over a free and open internet. We watched the Women’s March explode from an idea on Facebook to a nationwide and global movement. Groups mobilizing in support of a Supreme Court nominee find an avenue to speak online just as well as leaders mobilizing mass protests against the Muslim ban and the immigration crackdowns. Conservative groups in rural America have found a voice online as well. In all cases, the American people have used the internet to mobilize and organize resistance against an increasingly heightened democratic dialogue. Millions have been able to mobilize so quickly because they have the ability to use the open internet to communicate to the masses and organize a resistance.

When Americans have protections for the proliferation of democratic discourse and civic engagement, we all benefit. It is our duty to ensure those protections aren’t dismantled and to protect our communities from the discriminatory practices of telecommunications companies.   We can’t allow the Trump administration and Chairman Pai to eliminate net neutrality and consumer protections that affect us all. Internet users cannot allow ISPs and other broadband providers to deliver substandard internet service to our communities.

Net neutrality is the beginning of a larger conversation on the future of the internet. The internet fosters mobilization for progressive and social change, and as advocates for social justice we must protect the internet from transitioning into a utility of privilege. The clock is ticking and the time is now. Gigi Sohn, one of the major net neutrality advocates who helped in crafting the FCC’s current Open Internet Order, published helpful advice for those who want to get involved.  As the United States transitions towards this internet-based communications network revolution, we must remain focused on the right goals: ensuring that the internet is affordable and accessible for all, not just the privileged.

Digital social justice demands no less.

Author, Willmary Escoto

The War for Net Neutrality! Breaking It Down

The FCC voted along party lines to end the Obama administration’s rules on net neutrality. This war for a free and open Internet has been going on for some time. This is just the latest battle.  This decision is by no means the end of it. But what is happening and what does it mean for Black Internet users?

 

 

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that all data carried over the Internet is treated the same. That means that whether you’re streaming Netflix, shopping online, playing games or just reading the news, all the data is the same. Same speed and same price. For users of the Internet that meant that you could access any website and use as much data as you wanted. Before the change Internet service providers or ISPs like Comcast or Verizon could not deliberately speed up or slow down Internet traffic from specific websites or apps. But they did. The practice was known as throttling. The net neutrality rules, put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, were intended to keep the Internet open and fair. If you really want to understand how this works imagine sitting in traffic while those willing to pay whiz by you in the express lane. That is the basic idea behind the new rules of the Internet. 

How does that affect Black people?

People using the Internet, schools, small businesses and others are now subject to a potential new way of using the Internet and paying for it. You could be charged for high-speed streaming like Netflix. You could also be charged more for using data from some websites or apps over others. The rules used to say that ISPs could not favor one website over another for its content, the aptly named fast lane/slow lane Internet. Those rules just went out the window. Expect more throttling and slower web speeds and loading. Businesses with numerous computers and heavy data consumption could end up paying more. Start up businesses, especially minority owned, could be stifled by high data costs. According to MIT the repeal of net neutrality could be harmful to innovation. The exact opposite of what FCC chairman Ajit Pai claims.

Where this hurts black people, other minorities and the poor, is that just getting Internet could be costly. Already we are dealing with a lack of high speed Internet in poor and minority schools. As matter of fact the United States is already behind in both wireless and fixed wire Internet speeds.

Poor and minority children are already dealing with poor public education. That situation could be further eroded further by a lack of adequate access to the Internet. Classroom instruction will suffer as they fall further behind more affluent school districts. The digital divide is going to grow along with an under-educated under-class that is the source of poverty.

In some cities high speed Internet is nearly non-existent. Detroit for example is one of the worst cities in the country for high speed Internet especially for poor people. Repealing net neutrality is not going to help this situation.

Black people are avid users of mobile technology. The use of mobile devices could become more expensive. Shopping online, banking and other online activities could be slowed down or throttled. Another area of concern for black people is social and political activism.  A free and open Internet meant that no matter who you are you could get your message to the masses. These new rules could make it expensive for, or even censor, groups like #Black Lives Matter. Many believe that the Internet is key to free speech and the right of the public to know. 

Who is benefitting from this rule change?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

Most people would agree that the telecom companies are benefitting the most from this rule change. FCC Chairman Pai, an Obama appointment and promoted to chairman by Trump, has claimed that the new rules will not affect a free and open and Internet. Pai has been a critic of the net neutrality rules and believes that the rules of the Obama administration allowed the government to “micro-manage the Internet.”

The telecom industry approves of Pai’s plan. Pai argued that earlier regulation was a drag on broadband investment and innovation. In a blog post, Comcast downplayed concerns, saying customers “will continue to enjoy all of the benefits of an open Internet today, tomorrow, and in the future. Period.” Yet at the same time it appears that Comcast is already planning to charge you for more Internet speed.

According to the Los Angeles Times  several companies have also been preparing for this moment for some time and the profits of priority handling of Internet content. These companies will not say what they consider a free and open Internet is nor will they promise to treat all data the same. Basically they are keeping quiet.

Telecommunications companies like AT&T, Charter Communications and Comcast have run full page ads in the Washington Post claiming to preserve an “open Internet.” These practices supposedly include “no blocking of legal content,” “not throttling” data speeds and “no unfair discrimination.” They never said you wouldn’t have to pay for it. 

Another winner of the repeal are the big content providers. Netflix, Google and other large content providers also have the money and the leverage of millions of subscribers to negotiate deals with ISPs. This would allow them access to the Internet fast lanes and potentially get a competitive advantage. Any deal that Netflix, Google or YouTube cuts with the ISPs could mean a price increase for the consumer. You lose.

Supporters of net neutrality believe that consumers could be charged extra to stream certain content if they don’t want to be hampered by network congestion or throttling. Others are warning that consumer choices of Internet service providers could shrink and prices of broadband service could increase due to lack of competition.

What is actually happening is that the FCC, under the Trump administration, has declared that information is free. Access to it is not. The Internet, until now, was regulated as a utility. This brings that to an end. Now the Internet belongs to private industry and they are willing to make you pay for access because that is what they do. They couldn’t care less about your business needs, your child’s education or your need to know…period. They have the capability to keep the ignorant ignorant, the poor poor and the the competition from competing.. They can slow down information or cut it off completely if you don’t pay. Corporations have scored a victory but the war is far from over. 

Next: The Net Neutrality War is Not Over!

 

 

AT&T Hit With Historic $100M Fine

AT&TThe FCC has body slammed AT&T with a $100 million dollar fine for misleading customers and throttling their data. It is the largest fine in FCC history.

AT&T offered customers unlimited data plans starting in 2007 but discontinued the practice in 2010 according to the FCC. However there were millions of AT&T customers with unlimited data plans still in effect. AT&T decided to throttle, or restrict the data flow, to those customers once they hit a certain threshold each month. This was a clear contract violation and the FCC was obviously not happy.

According to the FCC AT&T  “capped speeds were much slower than the normal network speeds AT&T advertised and significantly impaired the ability of AT&T customers to access the Internet or use data applications for the remainder of the billing cycle.”

AT&T isn’t the only carrier to throttle. Verizon and T-Mobile have been accused of the practice.  Supposedly Verizon has ceased the practice. T-Mobile is known to slow down data of its top users when the network is congested.  According to T-Mobile the customer most likely to be throttled are those who perform peer-to-peer file sharing or download torrents. T-Mobile smartly made this practice clear to its customers. AT&T failed to do the same. The company never definitively stated in any of its marketing materials or billing statements what it was doing. Thousands of customer complaints resulted in an FCC investigation.

Sprint, the other major carrier, has announced that it is ceasing its throttling practice as a result of the new FCC Net Netrality ruling. Sprint had been restricting data speeds for a certain percentage of users who consumed what the company believed was execesive amounts of data. But Sprint put the brakes on that policy.

Breaking It Down

This news is significant for black people for one simple reason. Black people are more likely to use a mobile device for Internet access than other people. That means we are consuming more data on our phones and tablets than others. Consequently we are more likely to be labeled a data hog than others. Now how many black people were affected because of throttling? Who knows? But the practice was deceptive and violated the contract that AT&T had with its customers. The FCC has delivered the message loud and clear to AT&T; honor your contract. We all know exactly how the cell carriers act when we fail to make a payment or break the contract. Now they know how we feel.

African-Americans and Net Neutrality

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeIn a close three to two vote along party lines, the FCC announced new rules on Internet governance to support net neutrality and the open Internet, protecting freedom of innovation and access to web content.

The new rules from the FCC, changed the way ISPs operate. The Internet has been re-classified as a utility. This means that all people have a right to the Internet. The new rules reflect the FCC’s re-classification of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act. 

ISPs are now subject to the privacy provisions of the Communications Act of 1934. This new rule requires your ISP to provide you with any information they collect and maintain on you, the customer, upon written request.

Net neutrality has also been extended to wireless devices such as smartphones. The decision prevents cell providers from throttling, or slowing down, the data stream to your mobile device. A common practice of many carriers when they believe you consume too much data.

The three key provisions of the Open Internet Order covers both fixed and mobile internet access;

  • No blocking. ISPs cannot block access to legal content, apps, services or non-harmful devices;
  • No throttling. ISPs are forbidden from impairing or otherwise degrading legal Internet traffic on the basis of such criteria as content, apps, services or non-harmful devices.
  • No paid priority. ISPs are not allowed to charge for favored access of legal Internet traffic over other kinds in exchange for money. They are banned from giving their own content and services, and that of their affiliates, priority.

Internet service providers (ISPs), the companies that own the wires and antennas that transmit data, were seeking the right to charge Internet websites, content providers, and users based on how much data they put out or consume through those wires and antennas.

Advocates of net neutrality feared the creation of a two-tier internet where data flows are controlled and regulated based on one’s ability to pay.

Jessica Rosenworcel

Jessica Rosenworcel

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the commission said, “We cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind. We cannot have gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online. And we do not need blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization schemes that undermine the Internet as we know it.”

ISPs have a different view of the situation and the decision. These companies feel they have the right to profit from their investment they made in expanding the network and improving the speed of data transmission. They believe it is unfair for companies like Netflix, that consume huge amounts of network capacity, to use that capacity without paying more for it. They have a point. They also believe that the rules of the 1934 Communications Act are outdated and should not, and cannot, apply to today’s technology. These regulations, they believe, could cripple innovation by discouraging investment in networks. Some believe the rules could permit the government to impose new Internet taxes and tariffs increasing consumer bills and even give the government the power to force ISPs to share their networks with competitors. Sen. Ted Cruz has gone so far as to say the new rules are “Obamacare for the Internet.”

Republicans have accused the White House of skewing the independence of the FCC and called for an investigation into Obama’s role in shaping the rules. They conceded however they could not pass a veto proof net neutrality bill without support from Democrats. Major ISPs, cable and telecom companies have promised a court battle to reverse the ruling.

The FCC also voted to preempt state laws that prevented at least two cities from expanding their city owned broadband networks to neighboring communities especially rural areas.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

These communities have sought to over turn restrictive state laws prohibiting them from delivering high speed connectivity to rural neighbors. “There are a few irrefutable truths about broadband,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler ahead of the vote. “One is you can’t say you’re for broadband, and then turn around and endorse limits.”

Breaking It Down.

Many African-Americans may ask what is net neutrality and what does it mean to me? It means that black people will not be caught on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Black people and the economically disadvantage should not be left behind in the age of information. The ability to access knowledge, much like the public library, must be equal for all people.

In order for our schools to provide a quality education we need to have high speed Internet access. We cannot have politicians telling us they don’t have the money in the budget to pay for the needed connectivity.  The same way they tell us there is no money for music, athletics and other vitals of a good education. Connected schools for the rich alone? Don’t let that happen.

This decision is all about the digital divide. The gap between the have and the have nots. If we, as a nation, condone the restriction of access to the Internet based on who can pay then we take an terrifying step toward a dystopian society where education is for the rich alone. Don’t let that happen.

We have to realize that education is changing. Right now we are taking classes online and getting degrees. But soon the text book will be obsolete. It takes too much time and too many resources to update paper books. Books will be delivered over the Internet to a reader or tablet. Up to date and relevant content for the rich alone? Don’t let that happen.

We will have a society where education moves to the electronic classroom from pre-school to college and beyond. Classes tailored to the need and desires of the student. Lessons will be interactive and learning will be self-paced. Vastly improved quality of education for the rich alone? Don’t let that happen.

ISPs, in an effort to drive up profit margins, will eventually decide to categorize and price Internet access. That is the cablelization effect. We should not be forced to pick and choose what websites and services we can afford. Don’t let that happen.

Without net neutrality many people would find themselves limited to packages of Internet websites they can visit a month. Poor people will have to choose between researching information about their health or information about their government. They can’t afford both. Don’t let that happen.

This scenario will create an underclass of people who see the Internet and information as a luxury. As black people we understand very well how the denial of knowledge can impact people and equality. Denial of knowledge has been used throughout history to deny people equal rights.  Don’t let that happen.

The Internet must be considered a utility. Similar to essentials like water, electricity and the telephone, it is a matter of fairness and human dignity.

I understand perfectly what the ISPs are saying when it comes to their investment in the networks. But like the telephone companies learned long ago, once you become essential to the human condition you lose the right to decide who you can do business with and how much you can charge. Consider it an honor.

But restricting access to knowledge and information is the equivalent of charging admission to the public library. We can’t let that happen.

Why the Net Neutrality Ruling Will Affect African Americans

Image courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

There are a lot of African Americans who haven’t heard of the net neutrality ruling or heard about it and don’t believe it will affect them. The ruling is about money and how much you pay for your Internet service. That affects everybody.

The term Net Neutrality simply means that all data traveling over the Internet is the same and is treated the same. Data travels over the Internet in what are called packets. According to net neutrality all packets are the same. So, all data is the same regardless of the sender, recipient, content, platform, application, equipment, and modes of communication. Now you know what net neutrality is.

African-Americans, like most Americans, get our Internet service from our cable or phone company. Many people pay for the famous bundle. This service allows you to get the big three, cable, Internet and phone for one price. Now that net neutrality is changing so will your bill for that bundle

The FCC was sued in federal court by Internet service provider Verizon. Verizon argued that the FCC regulations preventing the company from charging different prices for different services are invalid. The court agreed. Now you know what happened.

The result was the rule preventing broadband providers from slowing down or blocking certain traffic was invalid. This means companies like Verizon, Comcast and others could block certain traffic if they wish and charge for higher speed services. The rule also required that companies using fiber optic or other cable treat all traffic the same and reveal their network practices. All these rules were thrown out by the court.

The impact on black people is easy to understand. The era of an open and free Internet may have come to an end. The result may be that the commoditizing of entertainment and information that was at one time free or cheap.  Companies such as Netflix and Hulu may raise their prices because the Internet Service provider (Comcast, Verizon et al.) are going to charge them more. This may also include online gaming, and targeted websites such as those for the Black and Latin American community.

But the FCC has not thrown in the towel. According to the Washington Post the FCC is re-writing the rules that will prohibit cable providers from blocking or slowing down Internet traffic or charging higher prices for high speed content.

Chairman of the FCC, Tony Wheeler, has stated he will not appeal the courts’ ruling but instead sees the ruling as an invitation to re-write the rules so they conform to communications laws.

In a statement Wheeler said; “I intend to accept that invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition.

Breaking It Down

 In my opinion this was a set up from the beginning. How does this happen that the FCC loses a ruling that allows it to control how Internet traffic is regulated? Well first of all the head of the FCC used to work for the same companies that won the ruling.  Tony Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless companies (Comcast, Verizon, et al). So is it a surprise that he’s not going to appeal?

Yes, he is going to re-write the rules but you can forget the old Internet. This guy is no friend of free and open Internet. I’m betting the new rules will allow the cable companies and Internet Service Providers to charge what they want for Internet service, watch and see.

Soon you will be seeing what is being called the “cablelization’ of the Internet. This is Internet service where certain traffic is blocked or slowed because the website won’t pay for the faster service or to be preventing from crossing the last mile to your home. The last mile is a term used to describe the final stretch of wire that brings Internet service into your home.

I see a day where certain websites are charged because they do not have the minimum traffic that makes it profitable for the ISP to carry them. That means some minority focused websites may be dropped. Think African-American or Latin news sites. I know this sounds blatantly racist but these companies are not looking at race as a basis for what they charge. They are looking at hard numbers. If they can carry only web services and websites that are paying or main stream sources of information then it’s all about profit. The rest be damned! Maybe the consumer will be put in a position where you can choose Google or Yahoo services or both for a higher price. It’s called tiered pricing and you’ve seen it already with your cable television bill.

Basically the Internet service provider will give better service to those web services that pay for it and leave consumers in the lurch for their desired content. I fear that is what is going to happen and a lot of consumer groups agree with me…or I with them.