Is FCC Net Neutrality Rollback Coming? Will that spark cablcos investment in rural/ suburban areas? AT&T won’t challenge FTC

Net neutrality advocates are declaring June 26 another day of action in support of Democrats’ resolution to restore the 2015 Obama-era net neutrality rules. Public Knowledge, Common Cause, Consumers Union and other groups want to bring pro-net neutrality Americans directly to the offices of their representatives in the House to lobby for passage of the measure, drawn up under the Congressional Review Act. The Senate passed it 52-47 last month, and so far 124 House lawmakers have signed the paperwork to force a floor vote (they need 218, so they’ve got some work cut out for them). TechFreedom is hosting a more skeptical panel discussion on Democrats’ effort Tuesday. Among the panelists slated to appear is Grace Koh, who advised President Trump on telecom issues until she left the White House earlier this year.

Tom Leithauser of TR Daily (subscription required) wrote yesterday:

The rollback of net neutrality rules by the FCC will spark broadband investment in rural and suburban areas served by small and mid-sized cable TV operators, Matthew Polka, president and chief executive officer of the American Cable Association, said on this week’s “The Communicators” program.

“It created a sense of greater innovation and investment that these companies can now deploy,” Mr. Polka said on the show, which is set to air on C-SPAN tomorrow and C-SPAN2 on Monday.

He noted that broadband networks were increasingly being viewed as “infrastructure” by policy-makers and that deployment to underserved and unserved areas was a top priority at the FCC and among some members of Congress.

One impediment to broadband deployment, he said, is the time and cost required to arrange access to utility poles. Andrew Petersen, an ACA board member and senior vice president for TDS Telecom who also appeared on the C-SPAN program, said pole attachment rates for his company averaged $7.80 per pole, but were significantly higher in some markets. “It really retards our ability to make those investments to extend broadband,” Mr. Petersen said.

Mr. Petersen expressed hope that the FCC’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee would offer recommendations on ways to lower the cost of pole attachments and other broadband deployment expenses, which he said were his company’s top cost.

“When you bring robust broadband to a new area, you’re combatting the ‘homework gap,’ [and] you’re allowing for economic development and commerce to take place,” Mr. Petersen said. He said it was unlikely, however, for 5G service to bring broadband to unserved areas because those areas generally lack structures needed to place 5G equipment.

“We’re not bullish that 5G is going to make its way to suburban and rural areas immediately,” he said. “I don’t believe 5G technology is going to make its way to those areas in the next several years.”

In a related CNET post, Margaret Reardon wrote:

AT&T has given up efforts to challenge the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to regulate broadband (Internet access) providers.  AT&T on Tuesday informed court officials that it would not file a petition to the US Supreme Court to challenge a lower court’s decision in the case. In 2014, the FTC sued AT&T in the US District Court of Northern California, accusing the company of promising unlimited data service to customers and then slowing that service down to rates that were barely usable. The case hasn’t yet gone to trial since AT&T had argued that the FTC has no authority over any of AT&T’s businesses.

The US Appeals court in Northern California rejected that argument in February and said the case could proceed. AT&T had until May 29 to file an appeal the the Supreme Court to challenge the decision.

AT&T indicated earlier this month in a status report submitted to the appeals court that it was considering appealing to the Supreme Court to stop the case.

This case was being closely watched by net neutrality supporters, because the question of whether the FTC has authority over AT&T would have had big implications for the future of the internet and whether there will be any cop on the beat ensuring that consumers are protected from big phone companies abusing their power online.

Why? When the Federal Communications Commission gave up its authority to police the internet with its repeal of net neutrality regulations in December, it specifically handed authority to protect consumers online to the FTC.

Net neutrality is the idea that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally and that large companies like AT&T, which is trying to buy Time Warner, can’t favor their own content over a competitor’s content. Rules adopted by a Democrat-led FCC in 2015 codified these principles into regulation. The current FCC, controlled by Republicans, voted to repeal the regulations and hand over authority to protect internet consumers to the FTC.

But there was one hitch in the law that could have made it impossible for the FTC to oversee some of the biggest broadband companies. Many of these companies, like AT&T and Verizon, also operate traditional telephone networks, which are still regulated by the FCC. AT&T argued that because some aspects of its business, like its traditional phone services, are regulated by the FCC, the FTC doesn’t have jurisdiction.

A federal appeals court disagreed with AT&T’s argument, stating the FTC can fill in oversight gaps when certain services, like broadband, aren’t regulated by the FCC. If AT&T had appealed to the Supreme Court and if the court had taken the case and ruled in AT&T’s favor, it would have meant that phone companies providing broadband or wireless internet services would be immune from government oversight. By contrast, cable companies, which do not operate traditional phone networks regulated by the FCC, would still be under the authority of the FTC.

For now, that doomsday scenario is put to rest and the lower court’s ruling that the FTC can, in fact, oversee all broadband providers stands.

Meanwhile, net neutrality supporters continue their fight to preserve the 2015 rules. Several states, including California and New York, are considering legislation to reinstate net neutrality rules. Earlier this year, Washington became the first state to sign such legislation into law. Governors in several states, including New Jersey and Montana, have signed executive orders requiring ISPs that do business with the state adhere to net neutrality principles.

Democrats in the US Senate are also trying to reinstate the FCC’s rules through the Congressional Review Act, which gives Congress 60 legislative days in which to overturn federal regulations. The resolution passed the Senate earlier this month and must pass the House of Representatives and eventually be signed into law by President Donald Trump to officially turn back the repeal of the rules.

Internet Association to Join Law Suits to Restore Net Neutrality

Overview:

The Internet Association, a Washington trade group representing prominent tech companies including Facebook, Google and Netflix, announced plans Friday January 5th to help sue the federal government over its decision to rescind Obama era FCC regulations that guaranteed equal access to the Internet (AKA “net neutrality”).  The Association said it would act as an “intervenor” in expected litigation over the FCC’s action.

That means that the Association won’t file its own lawsuit, but would join a legal action filed by others. Public interest groups and some state attorneys general have said they intend to challenge the repeal in court.

Net neutrality supporters argue that agency’s plan is illegal under federal laws that prohibit “arbitrary and capricious” changes in regulations, and that the agency didn’t gather sufficient public input on its proposal to overturn its old rules.

“The final version of Chairman Pai’s rule, as expected, dismantles popular net neutrality protections for consumers,” Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, said in a statement. “This rule defies the will of a bipartisan majority of Americans and fails to preserve a free and open internet. IA intends to act as an intervenor in judicial action against this order and, along with our member companies, will continue our push to restore strong, enforceable net neutrality protections through a legislative solution.”

The FCC on Thursday posted the final text version of its new Internet rules, which it calls “Restoring Internet Freedom”  (do you believe that?).  Those rules are expected to enter the Federal Register in the coming weeks.

Ajit Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (pictured above), has said the repeal of the rules will free ISPs from regulatory burdens that harm investment.  He was scheduled to speak at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week, but canceled due to death threats according to Recode which stated that the cancellation was in response to security concerns.

Pai has received sharp criticism since the vote, but defended his position by saying the rules were a heavy-handed approach to government regulation. Pai canceled a planned appearance at the CES technology conference in Las Vegas next week because of death threats, technology website Recode reported Friday. It is unclear whether the threats were connected to Pai’s net neutrality decision, which has drawn rancor on social media.

Congressional and Legal Challenges:

U.S. Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) is seeking to secure the votes that would force a vote to reverse the FCC’s action and restore the rules, via the Congressional Review Act. The move would be somewhat symbolic, as many Republicans support the FCC’s decision and President Donald Trump would be expected to veto such an action, if it were ever to reach his desk.

This week, California state Senator Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, introduced a bill that requires telecommunications companies doing business in the state to guarantee equal Internet access. State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León, D-Los Angeles, is backing a similar bill. Efforts are also under way in New York and Washington state to write their own rules guaranteeing equal Internet access to consumers.

Several government officials and advocacy groups have said they plan legal action, but they all have to wait until the FCC repeal order is published in the Federal Register.

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Opinions and Other Voices:

Noah Theran, an Internet Association spokesman, said open Internet rules helped level the playing field among companies, both small and large, in terms of their ability to reach people.

“The best websites and apps should win in a competitive marketplace because consumers like and use them, not because an ISP is picking winners and losers online by speeding up, blocking, or throttling access to certain sites,” Theran said in an email.

AT&T Senior Executive Vice President Bob Quinn said in a blog post after the December 2017 vote that “the Internet will continue to work tomorrow just as it always has.” He added that the company won’t block, censor or slow traffic to websites “based on content, nor unfairly discriminate in our treatment of Internet traffic.”

As expected, video streaming giant Netflix sharply criticized the December FCC vote to end net neutrality. “Today’s decision is the beginning of a longer legal battle. Netflix will stand with innovators, large and small, to oppose this misguided FCC order,” the Los Gatos, CA company said in a statement.

in 2006 Google co-founder Sergey Brin traveled to Washington, DC to make the case for net neutrality. Yet the internet giants were eerily quiet last year, other than filing comments with the FCC in support of the Obama-era rules, and placing a few notifications on their websites during the Day of Action.  Apple is conspicuously missing from the group, but broke a long silence on the topic of net neutrality last year when it filed its own FCC comment in support of net neutrality.

Emmett Shear, CEO of the popular San Francisco video game streaming company Twitch, now owned by Amazon.com, said startups like his were able to succeed because of net neutrality.

“Without it, we might not be here today, and our streamers might not be here tomorrow,” Shear said in a blog post written in anticipation of the FCC’s reversal.

References:

https://internetassociation.org/statement-restoring-internet-freedom-order/

http://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Facebook-Google-Netflix-join-fight-to-restore-12477404.php

https://www.wired.com/story/tech-giants-to-join-legal-battle-over-net-neutrality/

https://www.fcc.gov/document/fcc-releases-restoring-internet-freedom-order

http://techblog.comsoc.org/2017/12/14/fcc-votes-to-reverse-net-neutrality-not-regulate-broadband-industry/

Internet Association Will Join Legal Battle to Fight FCC’s Net Neutrality Repeal

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/15/technology/net-neutrality-repeal.html

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Addendum:

In response to an IEEE member email, I hereby provide background on the 2015 Net Neutrality FCC decision to classify the Internet as a regulated service under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.  Specifically:

On February 26, 2015, the FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.   On April 13, 2015, the FCC published the final rule on its new “net neutrality” regulations
Prior to that time, there were isolated cases of ISPs blocking (e.g. Comcast blocking BitTorent & other peer to peer) Internet traffic.  Here are a few articles on ISP blocking Internet traffic:
However,there were many cases of ISPs slowing down/ throttling user traffic, as per this 2015 report:
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