Net neutrality
June 11, 2018

The Federal Communications Commission's 3-2 decision to scrap net neutrality — the idea that all legal internet traffic must be treated the same by internet service providers — takes effect Monday. Killing net neutrality is a victory for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who wrote the rules and pushed them through with the help of the other two Republican FCC commissioners, and for ISPs. Without net neutrality, critics warn, giant corporations like Verizon and Comcast can throttle traffic to sites they don't own or partner with, or give customers who pay more better connections to services like Netflix. The Senate passed a bill in May reinstating net neutrality, but the House is not expected to take it up.

The fight now moves to federal court, where some net neutrality proponents are suing to overturn Pai's decision on the grounds that it was arbitrary and without justification. Telecoms are mulling legal action against Oregon, Vermont, and Washington state, which have all passed laws preserving net neutrality at the state level; California lawmakers are pushing through a similar law, and six other governors have tried to enact net neutrality through executive orders.

Telecoms insist they have no current plans to throttle traffic to certain sites. "We're all going to wake up on Monday, and we're all going to be able to stream cool shows off Netflix or Hulu or YouTube," said Jonathan Spalter, the leader of the trade group USTelecom, speaking in the lingo of youth. Gene Kimmelman, the president of public interest group Public Knowledge, said the end of net neutrality and approval of AT&T's purchase of Time Warner — a judge is set to rule either way on Tuesday — "could be a one-two punch to consumers and online competition. ... The combination of no net neutrality and video consolidation creates new bottlenecks that empower the traditional media industry to raise prices and limit online competition." Peter Weber

February 27, 2018

Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation to protect net neutrality Tuesday, after the Federal Communications Commission released its plans to repeal the internet access regulations last week. The net neutrality rules, instituted by the Obama administration in 2015, ostensibly force telecommunications companies to treat all online content equally by precluding them from charging content creators to load their content.

Supporters of net neutrality contend that removing the rules will allow companies to elevate certain content providers who are willing and able to pay a higher price. President Trump's FCC voted to repeal the rules in December under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, in order to return freedom to internet service providers.

On Tuesday, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) introduced a bill that would reverse the FCC's decision to repeal net neutrality and restore the Obama-era rules. It has the support of 50 lawmakers — including Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), The Hill reported — which means if the Democrats can convert one more Republican senator, they could prevent a filibuster and pass the law.

In the House, meanwhile, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.) has introduced his own legislation similar to Markey's. The measure has the support of 150 Democrats but no Republicans, indicating that even if Markey's bill could pass the upper chamber it is unlikely to pass the House. Even if it did, Trump is unlikely to sign it, Politico reported.

But that isn't stopping Democrats. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) plans to push net neutrality restoration to a vote in the coming months using the Congressional Review Act, which requires only 30 senators to back a bill in order to bring it to a vote. Schumer said that Democrats will make this a "major issue" for the 2018 midterm elections, Politico reported. Shivani Ishwar

January 17, 2018

Senate Democrats said Tuesday that they have 50 votes for a measure to restore net neutrality rules overturned by the Republican majority on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), putting them one vote shy of being able to force the measure. But even if House Speaker Paul Ryan allowed a vote on the measure and it passed, President Trump would likely veto it, despite net neutrality's broad popularity. So Tuesday also saw a handful of federal lawsuits filed to block the FCC's net neutrality repeal.

One suit was filed by the attorneys general of 21 states and Washington, D.C., all of them Democrats, arguing that the FCC's "arbitrary and capricious" decision violated federal law and the FCC's longstanding policy of preventing internet service providers from blocking or throttling websites. "The repeal of net neutrality would turn internet service providers into gatekeepers — allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do, and what we say online," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The Mozilla Foundation, the Open Technology Institute, and the public interest groups Free Press and Public Knowledge also filed separate lawsuits.

The 2015 rule giving the FCC teeth to enforce net neutrality, like previous net neutrality rules, was challenged in court by telecom firms, and a federal appellate court sided with the FCC in that case. Broadband companies are now siding with the FCC while the Internet Association, a trade group that includes Google and Netflix, is backing the net neutrality side. The FCC said its December rule stipulated that its net neutrality repeal couldn't be challenged until it was logged in the Federal Registry, so Tuesday's lawsuits were preliminary moves to determine which court will hear this round of legal challenges. Peter Weber

December 14, 2017

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, is expected to approve Pai's proposal to rescind 2015 open internet rules adopted under former President Barack Obama, with Pai and his two fellow Republicans, Michael O'Rielly and Brendan Carr, voting in favor and Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel strongly opposed.

The new rules will allow broadband internet providers like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T to block or throttle access to certain websites, or provide special "fast lanes" for sites, apps, or customers who pay extra. They also scrap consumer protections, prevent states from enacting rules that contradict the FCC's, and shift a good deal of the FCC's internet oversight powers to the Federal Trade Commission, which may or may not have the legal authority to regulate large broadband ISPs.

Pai's proposal is broadly unpopular — in a new poll, 83 percent of voters, including 75 percent of Republicans, favored keeping the current net neutrality rules after being presented with vetted arguments from proponents and opponents of Pai's changes by the University of Maryland's Program for Public Consultation. Librarians warn it will cost taxpayers or hurt library users. Critics of the plan are already planning legal challenges, and Congress could also step in.

The proposal dismantles "virtually all of the important tenets of net neutrality itself," telecom and media analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson write in a note to investors. "These changes will likely be so immensely unpopular that it would be shocking if they are allowed to stand for long." Pai argues that broadband giants will use their newfound powers for good, lowering prices and creating new services, and the broadband industry group USTelecom says the fears are unfounded and overblown. Broadband companies unsuccessfully sued to overturn the 2015 net neutrality rules and lobbied hard for Pai's proposal. Peter Weber

December 11, 2017

If Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai convinces two other FCC commissioners to vote with him Thursday, as expected, he will dismantle net neutrality, potentially allowing internet providers to slow down traffic to certain sites and favor others based on business or other decisions. But Pai has actually been on a deregulation spree at the FCC, and since he was named chairman in January, he has "rewritten the rules of the information age so thoroughly that there's no mode of communication under his control where the rules aren't looser than they were a year ago," David McCabe says at Axios.

Most of the changes allow for various forms of media consolidation, so one company can control more of local markets, but collectively they "will likely alter the way people experience the internet, broadcast TV, and even AM radio" for years to come, McCabe writes. Pai has also taken a whack at regulations that will affect nobody's life, like deregulating the telegraph industry. This move may not do anything, really, Axios notes, but it "was a boon to Pai's political rhetoric around deregulation."

Pai seems to embrace his reputation, joking at a dinner on Friday about industry "collusion" and being a "puppet" of Verizon, where he served as associate general counsel. Peter Weber

November 20, 2017

The Trump administration's Federal Communications Commission is expected to announce its plans to begin dismantling of the Obama-era net neutrality rules this week, with an official rollback anticipated following a mid-December meeting, The Wall Street Journal reports.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai vowed last winter that he would take "a weed whacker" to the regulations. Pai argues that the rules — which prevent internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T from tinkering with the speed of certain websites and applications — are preventing innovation in the industry. Supporters of the standards, such as the nonpartisan Free Press, argue that "without net neutrality, cable and phone companies could carve the internet into fast and slow lanes … This would destroy the open internet."

If the dismantling is successful, internet providers will have "more flexibility to use bundles of services and creative pricing to make their favored content more attractive to consumers," The Wall Street Journal explains. Or, as Slate puts it: "Without network neutrality rules, internet providers stand to make a lot of money, since the companies will be able to operate what is essentially a two-way toll — collecting money from both subscribers and websites that want to reach those users at faster speeds."

The new rules are expected to be announced Wednesday, British tech website The Inquirer writes, adding that "the important point, as we've said before, is that once the genie is out of the bottle, getting it back in is almost impossible." Jeva Lange

May 19, 2017

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 along party lines to begin Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to significantly weaken or scrap net neutrality rules enacted in 2015, when the FCC was led by Democrats. After the vote, Pai will begin writing rules to return to what he calls "light-tough" regulations, scrapping enforceable rules to prevent broadband internet providers from favoring some websites and services over others. Pai also proposes to repeal a "general conduct" rule that allows the FCC to investigate potentially anti-competitive business practices by ISPs. This would allow ISPs to charge internet service or content providers for better speed, or throttle sites run by competitors.

Pai argues that regulation has depressed infrastructure investment by large broadband ISPs, using a study commissioned by broadband companies, and said keeping the 2015 open internet rules will dampen innovation and speed improvements. Internet companies like Google and Facebook, and other net-neutrality proponents, say Pai is addressing a problem that doesn't exist, pointing to a study backed by internet companies that shows investment in infrastructure has risen since the news rules took effect. They argue that Pai's rules would allow ISPs to abuse their role as gatekeepers, harming consumers and quashing the open tradition of the internet.

"Today we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the internet," Pai said. "The evidence strongly suggests this is the right way to go." Mignon Clyburn, the sole Democrat on the commission, disagreed. "The endgame appears to be no-touch regulation," she said, "and a wholesale destruction of the FCC's public interest authority in the 21st century." The FCC is supposed to have five commissioners, no more than three from one party; President Trump, who elevated Pai to chairman, has not yet nominated commissioners for the two absent seats. You can soon comment on Pai's proposed rules here. Peter Weber

May 9, 2017

The first time late-night comedian John Oliver asked America's internet fans to flood the Federal Communications Commission website with comments in support of net neutrality, in 2014, they apparently did, and the FCC website quickly crashed from the traffic. Oliver renewed the call on Sunday night's Last Week Tonight, now that new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing to scale back the hard-fought net neutrality rules; Oliver even created a new site that directs you to the relevant FCC comment section. And sure enough, on Sunday night and early Monday, starting about half an hour after Last Week Tonight aired, the FCC's comment section was unreachable.

But that wasn't due to John Oliver fans, the FCC said Monday. "These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC's comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host," said FCC Chief Information Officer David Bray. "These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC."

Not everybody was convinced by the DDoS attack explanation. The timing was just too much of a coincidence, Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer told The Washington Post. "The FCC should immediately release its logs to an independent security analyst or major news outlet to verify exactly what happened last night."

In any case, the public comment section is back online, should you want to express your support or opposition to Pai's push to make net neutrality more of a voluntary proposition. And if you aren't quite sure what the fuss is about, you can watch (or rewatch) the (NSFW) John Oliver explainer below. Peter Weber

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