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Net neautrality:An Open Letter to the FCC:

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    Posted: December 02 2017 at 3:07pm

Dear FCC Chairman Ajit Pai:

As you recently announced, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under your leadership, soon will release rules to dismantle your agency’s existing “net neutrality” protections under Title II of the Communications Act, which shield the public from anti-consumer behaviors of the giant cable companies that provide high-speed internet to most people. In today’s digital age, the rules that govern the operation and delivery of internet service to hundreds of millions of Americans are critical to the economic and social well-being of the nation. Yet the process the FCC has employed to consider potentially sweeping alterations to current net neutrality rules has been corrupted by the fraudulent use of Americans’ identities — and the FCC has been unwilling to assist my office in our efforts to investigate this unlawful activity.

Specifically, for six months my office has been investigating who perpetrated a massive scheme to corrupt the FCC’s notice and comment process through the misuse of enormous numbers of real New Yorkers’ and other Americans’ identities. Such conduct likely violates state law — yet the FCC has refused multiple requests for crucial evidence in its sole possession that is vital to permit that law enforcement investigation to proceed.

In April 2017, the FCC announced that it would issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking concerning repeal of its existing net neutrality rules. Federal law requires the FCC and all federal agencies to take public comments on proposed rules into account — so it is important that the public comment process actually enable the voices of the millions of individuals and businesses who will be affected to be heard. That’s important no matter one’s position on net neutrality, environmental rules, and so many other areas in which federal agencies regulate.

In May 2017, researchers and reporters discovered that the FCC’s public comment process was being corrupted by the submission of enormous numbers of fake comments concerning the possible repeal of net neutrality rules. In doing so, the perpetrator or perpetrators attacked what is supposed to be an open public process by attempting to drown out and negate the views of the real people, businesses, and others who honestly commented on this important issue. Worse, while some of these fake comments used made up
names and addresses, many misused the real names and addresses of actual people as part of the effort to undermine the integrity of the comment process. That’s akin to identity theft, and it happened on a massive scale.

My office analyzed the fake comments and found that tens of thousands of New Yorkers may have had their identities misused in this way. (Indeed, analysis showed that, in all, hundreds of thousands of Americans likely were victimized in the same way, including tens of thousands per state in California, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and possibly others.) Impersonation and other misuse of a person’s identity violates New York law, so my office launched an investigation.

Successfully investigating this sort of illegal conduct requires the participation of the agency whose system was attacked. So in June 2017, we contacted the FCC to request certain records related to its public comment system that were necessary to investigate which bad actor or actors were behind the misconduct. We made our request for logs and other records at least 9 times over 5 months: in June, July, August, September, October (three times), and November.

We reached out for assistance to multiple top FCC officials, including you, three successive acting FCC General Counsels, and the FCC’s Inspector General. We offered to keep the requested records confidential, as we had done when my office and the FCC shared information and documents as part of past investigative work.

Yet we have received no substantive response to our investigative requests. None.

This investigation isn’t about the substantive issues concerning net neutrality. For my part, I have long publicly advocated for strong net neutrality rules under the Title II of the Communications Act, and studies show that the overwhelming majority of Americans who took the time to write public comments to the FCC about the issue feel the same way while a very small minority favor repeal.

But this isn’t about that. It’s about the right to control one’s own identity and prevent the corruption of a process designed to solicit the opinion of real people and institutions. Misuse of identity online by the hundreds of thousands should concern everyone — for and against net neutrality, New Yorker or Texan, Democrat or Republican.

We all have a powerful reason to hold accountable those who would steal Americans’ identities and assault the public’s right to be heard in government rulemaking. If law enforcement can’t investigate and (where appropriate) prosecute when it happens on this scale, the door is open for it to happen again and again

I encourage the FCC to reconsider its refusal to assist in my office’s law enforcement investigation to identify and hold accountable those who illegally misused so many New Yorkers’ identities to corrupt the public comment process. In an era where foreign governments have indisputably tried to use the internet and social media to influence our elections, federal and state governments should be working together to ensure that malevolent actors cannot subvert our administrative agencies’ decision-making processes.

Sincerely,
Eric T. Schneiderman


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Want more Netflix? You'll pay extra for that

On Tuesday, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it planned to vote on an order to roll back Obama-era rules governing net neutrality.

Simply put, net neutrality means that all data on the internet is treated equally. An internet service provider can't prioritise certain companies or types of data, charge users more to access certain websites and apps, or charge businesses for preferential access.

Advocates of net neutrality argue that it ensures a level playing field for everyone on the internet. Telecoms firms, however, are largely against it because of the additional restrictions it places on them.< ="teads-resize" style="-sizing: border-; max-width: 100%; width: 560px; margin: 0px !imant; padding: 0px !imant; height: 0px !imant; min-height: 0px !imant; border-width: initial !imant; border-style: none !imant; display: block !imant;">


But with the Republican-majority FCC likely to vote on 14 December in favour of rolling back the order, what might the American internet look like without net neutrality? Just look at Portugal.

The country's wireless carrier Meo offers a package that's very different from those available in the US. Users pay for traditional “data” — and on top of that, they pay for additional packages based on the kind of data and apps they want to use.​

Really into messaging? Then pay €4.99 ($5.86 or £4.43) a month and get more data for apps like WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime. Prefer social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, and so on? That'll be another €4.99 a month.

Video apps like Netflix and YouTube are available as another add-on, while music (Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Play Music, etc.) is another, as is email and cloud (Gmail, Yahoo Mail, iCloud, etc.).

Net-neutrality advocates argue that this kind of model is dangerous because it risks creating a two-tier system that harms competition - people will just use the big-name apps included in the bundles they pay for, while upstart challengers will be left out in the cold.

For example: If you love watching videos, and Netflix is included in the video bundle but Hulu isn't, you're likely to try to save money by using only Netflix, making it harder for its competitors.

And without net neutrality, big-name apps could theoretically even pay telecoms firms for preferential access, offering them money - and smaller companies just couldn't compete with that. (It's not clear whether any of the companies named above have paid for preferential access.) An ISP could even refuse to grant access to an app at all unless they paid up.

Democratic Representative Ro Khanna of California originally shared the Meo example on Twitter in October.

“In Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages,” he wrote. “A huge advantage for entrenched companies, but it totally ices out startups trying to get in front of people which stifles innovation. This is what's at stake, and that's why we have to save net neutrality.”

Technically, Portugal is bound by the European Union's net-neutrality rules, but loopholes allow certain kinds of pricing schemes like the one outlined above.

It means new "high-speed serving packages" for your small business, aka "pay us another $400/mo if you want your website to stay up during the holidays."

Basically, it's a huge giveaway to companies like Comcast and AT&T, who get to charge everyone else piles of money for nothing they aren't doing now.

That money comes from your business, and from every company you buy things from - which means it comes from you.

Yonatan Zunger, a former Google employee, recently retweeted Khanna's tweet, adding: “This isn't even the worst part of ending net neutrality. The worst part happens when ISPs say 'we don't like this site's politics,' or 'this site competes with us,' and block or throttle it.”

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Say goodbye to net neutrality. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman, Ajit Pai, released a plan to repeal the landmark protections enacted by the agency in 2015. This has long been a top priority for Pai and his fellow Republicans, who now enjoy a majority of commissioners thanks to Trump. The vote is scheduled for 14 December, and is widely expected to pass along party lines.

What does this mean in practice? In a sentence: slower and more expensive internet service. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast should treat all kinds of data the same way. Its repeal means that in the future, your ISP will be able to fleece you in all sorts of new ways.

Quick guide

Net neutrality


When you think of the internet without net neutrality, you should think of the pleasures of modern air travel. You pay for a checked bag, you pay for a modicum of legroom, you pay for a lousy sandwich. The internet without net neutrality will likely look similar: the basics are barely tolerable, and everything else costs extra.

This dystopian scenario is why it’s so important to fight the Trump administration’s agenda. But that fight can’t be limited to saving net neutrality.

To democratize the internet, we need to do more than force private ISPs to abide by certain rules. We need to turn those ISPs into publicly owned utilities. We need to take internet service off the market, and transform it from a consumer good into a social right.

Access to the internet is a necessity. It is a basic precondition for full participation in our social, political, and economic life. But so long as the internet’s infrastructure remains private, the corporations that control it will always prioritize piling up profits for investors over serving our needs as users and citizens. Net neutrality addresses one negative consequence of private ownership, but there are many others. Charging discriminatory rates for data is a symptom – the root cause is the antidemocratic nature of a system run exclusively for profit. The solution is to make that system public, and put it under democratic control.

The idea of a public internet might seem utopian, but it’s how the network began. Our money created the internet, before it was radically privatized in the 1990s. Big companies seized a system built at enormous public expense in order to sell us access to it – the equivalent of someone stealing your house to charge you rent.

The proponents of privatization argued that the private sector would provide better service. But letting the profit motive rule our internet infrastructure has been a disaster. ISPs regularly rank at the bottom of the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index, even lower than airlines and health insurers. Most hated of all is Comcast, America’s largest ISP.

It’s not hard to understand why. American ISPs charge some of the highest pricesin the world in exchange for awful service. Your money isn’t being used to build better infrastructure, but to make the rich even richer: Comcast’s CEO earned$33m last year. Internationally, we’re an embarrassment: the country that invented the internet ranks tenth in average connection speeds, far below South Korea and Norway. And that number doesn’t capture the significant disparities in service that disproportionately affect poor and rural communities.

A staggering 39% of rural Americans lack access to internet service that meets the definition of broadband. Nearly half of Americans with household incomes below $30,000 a year have no home broadband at all – especially black and Hispanic households. And even those residents of low-income areas who can afford home internet often endure very slow speeds.

ISPs ignore these communities because they can make more money elsewhere. The human costs are immense: by denying a large swath of the country decent internet service, ISPs effectively cut them off from modern society. And while poor and rural Americans suffer the most, they’re not the only casualties. Everyone hates Comcast: by refusing to invest in infrastructure while charging exorbitant rates, ISPs make urban, middle-class Americans miserable too.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative: municipal broadband. If the most hated ISP in the country is Comcast, the most popular is EPB, a public utility owned by the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Consumer Reports ranks EPB the best American ISP, and the reason is obvious: it charges reasonable rates for some of the fastest residential speeds in the world. Also, it doesn’t punish poor people: Chattanoogans who can’t afford those rates are eligible for subsidized high-speed plans.

Publicly owned ISPs can give people things that private ISPs can’t. They can supply better service at lower cost because they don’t have to line the pockets of executives and investors. They can also empower communities to decide how the infrastructure is run, whether through municipally appointed boards, democratically elected representatives, or more direct modes of popular control.

While Chattanooga is the best known example, many communities across the country have built public networks. We should defend these initiatives, and join the movements for municipal broadband in San Francisco, Seattle and elsewhere.

But the political struggle for publicly owned internet infrastructure can’t be won at the municipal level. Chattanooga’s success terrifies the telecom industry, which has lobbied states across the country to ban or limit similar experiments.

Another reason that the campaign for a public internet can’t remain local is that the internet itself isn’t local. Broadband providers are only one link in the chain: moving your data across the internet requires a maze of deeper pipes, the largest of which are known as the “backbone”. Local ownership may be the best model for broadband, but national ownership will be necessary for the internet’s bigger networks – perhaps along the lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal utility created during the New Deal that brought cheap electricity to thousands of Americans for the first time.

Net neutrality is worth defending, but we can’t only play defense. Just as we should protect Obamacare while pushing for Medicare for All, we should protect the net neutrality rules while pushing for a public internet. The case couldn’t be more concrete: a public internet promises lower costs, faster speeds, and popular sovereignty over one of society’s most important infrastructures. Above all, it promises to make internet access a right.

Bernie Sanders has become the most popular politician in the country by championing these ideas in other arenas. He wants to democratize the provision of healthcare and higher education by treating them not as commodities but as social goods, guaranteed to all as a right.

We should be making the same argument about the internet. We need a socialist agenda for the internet for the same reason that we need a socialist agenda for healthcare and higher education: because it’s the best way to give people the resources they need to lead dignified lives, and the power to participate in the decisions that most affect them.

It’s time to take back the internet, and make the system we made in common serve our common ends.

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