Tag Archives: throttling

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.