Net Neutrality

As FCC Net Neutrality Rules Expire, Internet Survives — For Now

savethenet

This story originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

By Benny Evangelista

The internet didn’t crash and burn Monday as the Federal Communications Commission’s old net neutrality rules officially expired, yet the years-long debate remained far from settled.

“This is not doomsday at all. The internet hasn’t broken today,” said Mike Montgomery, executive director of CALinnovates, a technology advocacy organization in San Francisco. “Consumers aren’t going to see or feel anything changing in their internet experience.”

The fear, he and other net neutrality advocates say, is for the future.

The FCC voted in December to rescind regulations enacted during the Obama administration to establish the principle that internet service providers should treat all web traffic equally, without giving preferential treatment to any web company, service or content. The FCC’s new rules, called the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, took full effect Monday.

“This does not mean your broadband provider now has free reign to dictate your online experience,” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr wrote on Twitter. The tweet from Carr, who voted to overturn the old rules, was accompanied by an icon symbolizing slowed-down internet download speeds. Twitter introduced the icon last year to note the San Francisco company’s support for net neutrality.

In an opinion published by the tech news site Cnet, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the order’s “light touch” regulatory framework returns to an era when internet companies successfully invested $1.5 trillion in building the network. Pai said the new order will allow internet providers to invest in broadband services that reach more rural and low-income communities.

“The bottom line is that our regulatory framework will both protect the free and open internet and deliver more digital opportunity to more Americans,” Pai wrote. “It’s worked before and it will work again.”

Big internet companies like AT&T pledged to adhere to net neutrality principles.

“Our commitment to an open internet will not waver, just as our customers expect and deserve,” AT&T executive vice president Joan Marsh said in a statement.

Moody’s Investors Service said in a research note that the biggest internet providers — AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Charter — “will tread lightly … as there could be significant negative public reaction to these acts. At least in the near term, the cost of negative publicity on their existing businesses far outweighs the benefit of additional revenue streams these companies can generate” from practices like paid prioritization or accepting payment to preferentially speed delivery of certain apps or services.

A federal judge is scheduled to rule Tuesday on the Justice Department’s lawsuit to block AT&T’s proposed purchase of Time Warner, which “will have wide-reaching ramifications across the telecommunications, media and tech industry for decades to come,” said analyst Daniel Ives of GBH Insights. Net neutrality proponents worry that telecom companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast could favor their own media properties.

Consumer rights attorney Michael Burg, a founder of the Denver law firm Burg Simpson Eldredge Hersh & Jardine, noted a recent example from the TV industry when the conservative media giant Sinclair Broadcast Group had station anchors read a statement criticizing other media outlets.

“This opens the door for that on the internet,” Burg said. “People are always saying ‘No, that’s not going to happen.’ But we never believed we’d have Russian interference in our elections through Facebook. Once you allow money to affect the information or the flow of information or the speed of information, this is a very slippery slope that we as consumers must be very concerned about.”

California currently has two of its own net neutrality bills, which have passed the state Senate and moved on to the Assembly. But Burg said the state’s right to preempt the FCC’s nationwide rules will be challenged in the courts.

Both he and Montgomery of CALinnovates believe Congress needs to settle the matter by passing net neutrality rules that cover the entire country.

“We really can’t do this on a piecemeal, state-by-state basis,” Montgomery said. “We need one piece of legislation that’s going to clarify the rules for everyone. And not just in one or two or five states across the country.”

He conceded that could prove to be a big task “given the state of politics in general.”

A Second Chance At Net Neutrality

This post originally appeared in The Houston Chronicle.

By Mike Montgomery

As Americans worry our politics has lost the ability to solve even the most basic problems, net neutrality provides a perfect opportunity for Congress to prove the doubters wrong.

Net neutrality is the basic idea that the internet should be fair, free, and open to all Americans on equal terms. No one should be forced into online slow lanes or denied access to whatever lawful websites they want to visit and no big company should be allowed to use its power over cyberspace to gain a competitive advantage or silence minority points of view. It is incredibly popular with the public – polls show that more than three quarters of Americans support it – and Congressional leaders in both parties are on board.

For most of this year, however, progress on net neutrality has been stymied by the same kinds of backwards looking partisan grandstanding that has crippled other popular and vital issues like infrastructure, gun safety and immigration reform. Rather than take up strong, comprehensive neutrality legislation that would easily earn majority support, fringe partisans have forced unpopular and divisive versions of neutrality to center stage – knowing they would fail and thus create new campaign and fundraising fodder.

That’s what recently happened in the Senate where a flawed and incomplete version of net neutrality narrowly squeaked through on an almost party line vote – dead end legislation that everyone knows will not pass the House. The sponsors of this gridlock are just fine with this of course – they can mount the social media barricades and denounce Congress’s failure to act without anyone realizing their own choices led us down this cul de sac. It’s Americans that depend on a free and open internet who will pay the price.

In ordinary times, that would probably be the end of it. Can kicked down the road. Washington 1, the public 0.

But these are no ordinary times. The recent crisis over Facebook and Cambridge Analytica has completely flipped the script in Washington and the demand for comprehensive action to regulate the Big Tech giants creates a rare second chance for Congress to get the issue of internet regulation right.

 After years as an unquestioned “white hat” providing amazing and free products and services and hiding behind a glib “do no evil” façade, the Silicon Valley monopolists have now been dragged out into the light. And from election attacks, to secret location tracking, to facilitating sex trafficking and illegal opioid sales, what the public is seeing isn’t pretty.

As the internet becomes ever more central to our economic, political and cultural lives, the current “hear no evil, see no evil” approach to regulating it plainly isn’t good enough. Not in the face of these mighty new monopolies – where Google captures roughly 80 percent of online searches, Facebook has signed up more than 2 billion users, and every other dollar spent online goes to Amazon. Europe has already starting moving on this – imposing a $2.7 billion fine on Google for prioritizing its own products in search results and fining Facebook $131 million in connection with its acquisition of competitor WhatsApp. But so far the U.S. has lagged behind.

And that creates a rare second chance for Congress to get internet regulation right – with a comprehensive approach to net neutrality, privacy and fair competition that covers the entire online ecosystem.

Unlike the narrow “CRA” version of net neutrality now marooned in the House, a new bill must cover all internet companies, including the tech platforms like Google and Facebook that shape so much of what do and see online. What good are equal treatment rules that don’t apply to the companies that shape our newsfeeds, manage our social connections and determine the answers to our most personal questions?

It should also reach beyond traditional regulatory silos and address interrelated concerns like privacy and data mining, algorithmic discrimination, and competition abuses that flow from the Big Tech platforms’ status as curators and gatekeepers online.

Calls for comprehensive legislation on this issue are coming from all quarters – including the major internet providers, civil rights leaders and the free market community. And the public demands it – in one recent poll, 55 percent of Americans feared the government wouldn’t do enough to rein in Big Tech.

Congress doesn’t often get a second chance on major policy issues. But it has one now on net neutrality.

Why The Congressional Review Act Is A Complete Charade

“Nearly every day brings new stories of children being tracked, Russians being indicted, and online-fueled hate exploding into real-world violence – all while the big tech platforms that enable this chaos report record earnings and shrug off Congressional oversight without breaking a sweat,” writes Mike Montgomery for Multichannel News. “The American people are demanding comprehensive action to rein in these giant platforms, protect our privacy and permanently keep cyberspace open and free – with 80% believing the big platforms haven’t done enough to secure their networks. Nearly 60% are concerned the government won’t do enough to solve the problem. Yet, amazingly, the only internet bill on the agenda in Congress is a backward-looking resolution that will actually reduce our privacy protections.”

Here’s why Montgomery calls the Congressional Review Act, which is being billed as a net neutrality-protection measure, “a complete charade.”

 

Net Neutrality Redux: Americans Want Certainty; See Tech Giants and ISPs in Similar Light

Sixty-Two Percent of Americans Are Either Unsure or Believe Tech Companies and ISPs Are about the Same When It Comes to Protecting Privacy

San Francisco, CA, December 11, 2017 – After more than a decade of squabbling over so-called Net Neutrality rules, Americans want the issue settled once and for all to create certainty, according to a new survey by technology advocacy group CALinnovates.

Sixty-one percent of Americans, for example, report that creating regulatory certainty is important for the future of the internet and innovation.

But underlying that desire to settle the issue, according to the survey, is a growing sense that the technology companies driving the net neutrality debate aren’t different from their internet service provider opponents. The survey of 1,116 Americans found that:

  • Only slightly more than 1 in 3 Americans saw a difference between tech companies such as Google and Facebook and ISPs such as Verizon when it came to protecting their privacy. In fact, 62 percent reported that they are about the same or are not sure.
  • When it came to which companies they are more likely to trust, ISPs such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast (20%) were slightly ahead of tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter (18%). Overall, 50 percent of Americans said they trust or distrust them about equally.
  • And when it came to which of the sectors had the most to gain from net neutrality, it was again even. Sixteen percent of Americans thought tech companies because they want to maintain access as cheaply as possible, while the same amount said ISPs because they don’t want rules imposed on them.

“Americans intuitively understand that this never-ending game of policy pingpong over net neutrality must come to an end so consumers and the tech ecosystem can move on and focus fully on making magic,” said Mike Montgomery, Executive Director of CALinnovates. “With yet another FCC vote ahead, it’s time to bring this to a conclusion so we can get on with the business of innovating and delivering services consumers want.”

What the survey data reflects is the issues’ complexity and Americans’ struggle to understand its impact. Nearly the same number of Americans said they don’t understand the issue (45 percent) as said they do (48 percent).

But even if many don’t completely grasp net neutrality , they are looking for leadership from Washington to sort it out once and for all. And whatever happens, 82 percent of Americans want the FCC, which is slated to vote on net neutrality rules shortly, to be transparent about the proposed rule changes in advance of a vote.

The CALinnovates survey of 1,116 Americans was conducted from Nov. 27-Nov. 30 and has a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

ABOUT CALINNOVATES

CALinnovates is a non-partisan technology advocacy coalition of tech companies, founders, funders and nonprofits.

Congress Must Answer the Call for Net Neutrality

A statement from CALinnovates Executive Director Mike Montgomery:

“Hopefully this puts to rest the FCC’s recurring role in this decade-plus long tragicomedy and forces Congress to deliver a lasting solution that will provide innovators and consumers the clarity, certainty and protections they require to navigate the digital era in which we live.

“In releasing the white copy rules for public review three weeks before the Commission’s vote, Chairman Pai has removed a lingering opaqueness that has obscured the openness the public deserves. Such transparency is far overdue at the 83-year-old FCC.

“Americans overwhelmingly favor a permanent law over regulations that can be changed from administration to administration. The power – and responsibility – to make those rules sits unquestionably on the shoulders of Congress. Despite ongoing Congressional gridlock, legislators must answer today’s call to develop clear, bipartisan rules that guarantee bright line protections.”

End The Policy Pingpong, Cement Net Neutrality Into Law

By Mike Montgomery

Like any reality show that hinges on ginning up new drama for its captivated viewers, the debate over net neutrality, now more than a decade old, is fueled by manufactured conflict.

Since 2005, here’s the scorecard: three attempts by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement net neutrality rules, two reversals, endless litigation and a whole lot of outrage by interest groups and think tanks on all sides of the issue that rely on perpetual conflict to fundraise.

That outrage has worked, inspiring more than 20 million net neutrality comments since 2014 — more than have been submitted about any issue in FCC history.

 

This endless loop is not doing most stakeholders any good; not the small businesses that net neutrality is designed to protect from being relegated to slow lanes, nor the consumers who want the new services and ever-increasing internet speeds that innovation and investment create.

Americans seem to understand this: According to a new survey, Americans overwhelmingly favor a permanent law over regulations that can be changed from administration to administration. Indeed, 74 percent of Americans said they would support net neutrality legislation that enabled them to use the internet free from government or corporate censorship, while creating rules that ensure a level playing field.

It’s time to end the slowest game of policy pingpong before it drags into another decade. It is high time for Congress to finally step up — after multiple decades of hibernation — and pass affirmative, bipartisan legislation that makes net neutrality the law of the land. That is something that CALinnovates has proposed for three years now; we are gratified that others are finally jumping on the bandwagon.

Unfortunately, many still balk. They would rather decry what the FCC is doing in reconsidering the Open Internet Order or rail against “government control.” In an ironic move, the “Day of Action” really highlighted the inaction we are stuck with — yet another round of public protests and bluster against the inevitable FCC reconsideration of the Open Internet Order instead of real action to demand that Congress enshrine net neutrality into law.

Let’s call that what it is: faux outrage. There is an opportunity — right now — to settle net neutrality once and for all with legislation that would ensure that whoever is in the White House and in charge of the FCC won’t rewrite the rules. Neither side is likely to get 100 percent of their demands, but there’s clear agreement over the core 95 percent that should be cemented into law.

Such legislation must guarantee clear rules that prohibit blocking and throttling and guarantee transparency. In short, there should be no discrimination whatsoever. Legislation should ensure that no “fast lanes” for preferred content are allowed to develop through paid prioritization, with few exceptions, such as free data. Free data (aka zero rating) and other offerings that don’t count against data caps must demonstrate how they provide consumer benefits and encourage, rather than stifle, competition.

Such legislation is likely to garner wide support, especially among younger voters. The recent survey revealed a surprising nuance about younger voters’ stance on internet governance. Contrary to previous understanding about millennials’ views on internet issues, the survey found these Americans are the most likely to think the internet is over-regulated. In fact, 18- to 29-year-olds were nearly twice as likely to favor congressional action over FCC oversight.

If Congress were to enact bipartisan legislation, the principles of an open internet would be the law — and the net neutrality reality show would be cancelled prior to season 13. Is there another option? Sure. Partisans could wait for the next Democratic president to appoint an FCC chair. At the earliest, that’s in 2021. Can the country go that long without net neutrality?

We can’t, and shouldn’t have to wait for inevitable swings in partisan control to settle this for the benefit of all sides. Congress must wake from its two-decade slumber regarding internet policy to take the decision away from the FCC and cement net neutrality once and for all.

As a strong supporter of the principles of net neutrality, CALinnovates believes Congress can muster such courage. Now it is time to see if interest groups representing all positions in this debate will set aside their faux outrage long enough to put their heads where their hearts are.

Mike Montgomery is the executive director of CALinnovates, a coalition of tech companies, founders, funders and nonprofits that aims to educate policymakers, elected officials and regulators on the virtues of the 21st-century digital economy and raise the issues of importance to the technology community at the local, state and federal levels of public policy.

This piece was originally published in The Hill.

Day of Action Should Not Just Be One Day

By Mike Montgomery

As many know, today is a day of action on net neutrality. For everyone who believes in the principle of net neutrality, however, we shouldn’t reserve just one day. That’s because for nearly a decade a cloud of uncertainty has hung over the future of net neutrality. It is time for that uncertainty to end but it will take a sustained effort, not just one day of protest to fix this. For too long the fate of net neutrality has been subject to whomever sits in the White House and nominates the FCC chairperson.

As we have been saying since 2014, we need to translate today’s day of action into a sustained effort to get Congress to write into law the principles of net neutrality, which are foundational in the digital age. That will protect entrepreneurs and provide a level playing field. This isn’t a new approach for CALinnovates as it is for many engaged in the debate. We have said for 3 years that legislation is not only important, but that it is vital. As one of the first voices to argue for legislation to codify these important principles in stone, we didn’t push the easy button and accept temporary regulations.

We know there are some who don’t see it that way. They would rather rail at the FCC for once again reversing its position. But what good does that do? If a Republican is in charge, the FCC sees net neutrality implementation one way; if a Democrat is in charge, the FCC sees implementation another way. Either way the other party raises campaign funds arguing that when they are in charge next they will switch things up. Meanwhile, consumers and entrepreneurs lack certainty that legislation would provide about fair, clear rules of the internet road.

This back and forth is the worst of all worlds because it creates uncertainty: for consumers, for entrepreneurs and for the infrastructure providers. Here’s what we know: the current FCC is going to go in a different direction when it comes to net neutrality. Whether you agree with that — and there are a lot of technologists and policymakers on both sides of the issue — that’s the political reality. So where do we go from here?

CALinnovates has long sought a third-way on net neutrality — one that ensures it is a guiding principle but doesn’t lock into place provisions that freeze future innovation. A lot of the focus has been on the FCC’s use of

Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. And it’s not just CALinnovates that is concerned with Title II — a large group of Internet pioneers have raised serious concerns (the list of these tech leaders is below).

Here’s what one leader, John Perry Barlow — the co-founder of the Electronic Freedom Foundation — wrote: “Telecom regulations give a lot of leverage to organizations whether governmental or corporate to close down the right to know. My long experience says as soon as you give government the authority to impose regulations on the Internet you are doing something to frustrate the right to know. People tend to presume on theoretical grounds a little right minded regulation will help people build beneficial architectures and organizations. I do not think there is anything to support that theory. Every time I have seen any sort of regulation of the Internet the results have been mayhem. Declaring the Internet and the telephone network to be the same thing is like declaring a Buick and a symphony to be the same thing because they both make noise.”

The problem with Title II is that although it does, in theory, ensure that all data is treated equally and that companies can’t carve out fast lanes, it also opens the door to the internet being frozen into a time capsule that discourages network modernization, which supports the next wave of innovation and increased competition among providers. The digital world moves at the speed of light. To slow growth to the speed of bureaucracy would have serious negative effects on the tech industry that is continually transforming.

When others were calling for regulations, we argued for legislation. We were ahead of the curve while others engaged in the food fight that defines the net neutrality debate. Now, though, we are glad others are finally echoing what we’ve been saying since 2014. Bipartisan legislation would end for once and for all the endless cycle of FCC rule-making, litigation by those who oppose it, more FCC rule-making, repeal of FCC rule-making, protests, more protests and counter-protests. Our position hasn’t made us popular with those who profit from protest, but it has been the right thing to do the whole time. Today, we reiterate our call for Congress to enact commonsense legislation that put flexible but important principles into law that protect consumers and give some direction to entrepreneurs.

If net neutrality is as important as we all say it is, it should be the law of the land, not a political hot potato resting on the third rail of American tech policy for another decade.

Tech leaders concerned about Title II regulation of the Internet :

1. John Perry Barlow, lyricist, activitist, and co-founder EFF

2. Gordon Bell, researcher emeritus, Microsoft

3. Mark Cuban, founder, AXS TV & Owner, Dallas Mavericks

4. Tim Draper, co-founder, Draper Fisher Jurvetson

5. Tom Evslin, founder & former, CEO ITXC

6. Dave Farber, Professor Emeritus, CMU & Board Member ISOC and EFF

7. Toby Farrand, VP Engineering, Ooma

8. David Frankel, founder ZipDX, Jetstream, & HD voice pioneer

9. Martin Geddes, former BT Strategy Director

10. Charlie Giancarlo, Sr Advisor, Silver Lake & former Chief Development Officer, Cisco

11. George Gilder, futurist and author

12. John Gilmore, activist and co-founder EFF

13. Bryan Martin, Chairman and CTO, 8×8

14. Doug Humphrey, co-founder Digex, Cidera & first east coast ISP

15. Joe McMillen, founder Complex Drive & lead developer first carrier grade VoIP gateway

16. Scott McNealy, co-founder SUN Microsystems

17. Bob Metcalfe, Professor, University of Texas & co-founder 3Com, inventor of Ethernet

18. Andrew Odlyzko, Professor, University of Minnesota

19. Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes & former CTO Microsoft

20. Jeff Pulver, cofounder, Vonage & Zula

21. Sandra Rivera, VP Data Center Group and GM Network Platforms (leads SDN/5G initiatives)

22. Michael Robertson, CEO, MP3.com

23. Les Vadasz, former EVP, Intel

Mike Montgomery is Executive Director at CALinnovates.

Mike Montgomery: Title II And Common Carriers: How The FCC Can Save Net Neutrality And Still Ruin the Internet

By Mike Montgomery

Prolonged discussions of Federal Communications Commission regulations are typically about as stimulating as a fistful of Ambien — except when it comes to net neutrality.

With the FCC poised to issue new rules governing how Internet service providers manage and price the traffic that flows through their networks, Americans woke up and spoke up so loudly that they crashed the agency’s website last month. The million-plus comments from concerned citizens were the most the FCC has ever received during a proposed rule’s public comment period — and just a few hundred thousand shy of the number of complaints that poured in after Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction.” When we’re comparing tech regulations to Super Bowl nipple slips, you know we’re in a different kind of debate.

You probably haven’t had a chance to read all 1,067,779 comments. Neither have I. But most support an outcome preserving the wide-open Internet that birthed our current era of innovation, transformation and disruption. The question now is how to achieve this.

The debate so far has been oversimplified: Are you for net neutrality or against it? That reductive framing may lead us to embrace a solution that doesn’t solve the problem.

From where I sit at CALinnovates, representing tech companies dependent on the open Internet to survive, this debate is incredibly important. Disruptors like ride-share platform Sidecar and conference-call service Speek shouldn’t be forced to bid against deep-pocketed giants — or anyone, for that matter — for their share of bandwidth. Nor should they be forced to adapt to regulations that would suppress new ideas or hamstring the entrepreneurs who hatch them.

They, along with countless other startups and aspiring innovators, agree: We need an outcome that preserves the openness of the Internet.

Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Let me explain. The leading proposal in Washington to achieve that goal is to reclassify broadband providers as “telecommunications services.” This would allow the FCC to regulate providers using authority granted it under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.

As you have undoubtedly noticed, the Communications Act of 1934 was passed in 1934. That means the FCC is gathering input as it considers adopting the same legislative framework for the Internet that existed back when “wireless” meant the hand crank on your grandparents’ AM radio.

Title II turned our nation’s telephone system — a single network operated by a single company, Ma Bell — into a highly regulated utility, just like water and electric companies. While they helped protect consumers from the excesses of a corporate monopoly, Title II’s restraints hardly made that phone network an innovative one.

Ask your parents: Under Title II, innovation in telecom meant being able to buy a different color of the same phone chosen by the monopoly at a price set by the government. This same law can’t accommodate today’s sprawling, bustling, magically fragmented Internet, a miracle of technology unimaginable in 1934 — or even in 1996, when the act was updated for the “modern” era.

By turning the Internet into a utility, we’ll bleed tech innovation with a thousand paper cuts. Would we even know what an iPhone is if Steve Jobs had to run his pricing models past the FCC? Would Twitter be fomenting revolution if Jack Dorsey needed to check with regulators about what kind of data can be shared online and by whom?

It sounds far-fetched, but that’s how it would work. Under Section 214 of Title II, common carriers have to ask for approval before discontinuing nonperforming platforms or launching new ones.

Shoehorning Internet companies into Title II and treating them as common carriers won’t just slow Silicon Valley down to Beltway-at-rush-hour speed; it will also render impossible a great many things that have become part of our daily routines, like using on-demand services from location-based smartphone apps.

Under Section 222 of Title II, companies have a duty to protect the confidentiality of customers’ proprietary network information. Sounds benign, right? Well, it means wireless location data could no longer be shared with Internet companies for mapping or advertising. Location-based companies would be limited by, in the regulators’ lyrical stylings, the “use or disclosure” of “call location information concerning the user of a commercial mobile service.” In plain English, that means companies like dating service Tinder, car navigation service Waze and ride-sharer Uber could soon become relics of the past. At the least, they would have far higher hurdles and costs in launching and attracting investment capital.

The big losers in all this would very likely be startups and the consumers they seek to serve. For large, established digital companies, these new regulations would probably just be an inconvenience. For startups that don’t have the resources to fight Title II classification, or the in-house legal teams to interpret the new requirements, the rule changes would be a death knell.

Before we trade the devil we know for the devil our grandparents knew, we should pause to ask ourselves whether legally defining the Internet as a utility will keep it both open and innovative — or act as a drag on creativity and growth.

I’m pro-net neutrality, but anti-1934-style strangulation. Where does that leave me? According to the approaches under consideration, I may soon be a man without a country. Good thing the Internet, at least for now, doesn’t require a passport.

Mike Montgomery is the Executive Director of CALinnovates,

This piece was originally published in The Huffington Post.

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