On November 30, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) wrote a letter addressed to President Joe Biden asking Biden to withdraw the nomination of Gigi Sohn, a co-founder of the open Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, to serve as a commissioner with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Tillis is one of a growing number of Republican lawmakers who are speaking out strongly against Biden’s nomination of Sohn, who previously served as a senior staffer to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler during the Obama Administration. Tillis’ letter to President Biden certainly pulls no punches in assessing the likely impact of Sohn’s nomination on copyright owners especially. “[Sohn] is a radical open-content activist with no respect for intellectual property rights,” Tillis wrote. “As an activist, Ms. Sohn has consistently worked against commonsense measures that would crack down on illegal piracy. She has even testified before Congress that ‘piracy has absolutely no effect on [music] prices whatsoever.’”
Net neutrality provides that all ISPs should provide equal access to content, at an equal speed, without discrimination against particular sources, thereby preventing broadband providers from blocking, slowing down or charging money for specific content. Proponents of net neutrality point out the importance of equal access to consumers on the internet for companies creating content and intellectual property on the internet, while opponents view FCC regulations as overreaching and unnecessary. Whether through national legislation, a change in FCC position or state laws and the accompanying lawsuits, the debate regarding net neutrality is not over yet and the year ahead will likely hold many new developments.
This week on Capitol Hill, both houses of Congress are abuzz with a full schedule of hearings related to science, technology and innovation topics. In the House of Representatives, various committees explore a proposed net neutrality bill, innovation in the aviation industry, and ways to improve competition in the pharmaceutical industry—a hot topic of debate in recent weeks. Both the House and the Senate will hold hearings on the future of America’s space program. The Senate will also consider consumer data privacy regulations, rural broadband investments, and military applications of artificial intelligence. On Tuesday, a pair of events at the Brookings Institution will look at the impact of technological advances on public policy, as well as the artificial intelligence race between the U.S. and China.
Last week the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing to conduct oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Although there was the typical overblown bickering over the FCC’s action on net neutrality rules taken in recent months under FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that one might expect, much of the day’s hearing focused on the poor quality of current broadband coverage maps employed by the FCC in distributing subsidies as well as the need to improve broadband deployment to reach millions of Americans living in rural communities.
Without the FCC’s ability to regulate ISPs under Title II common carrier regulations, there have been fears that ISPs could create bundled mobile packages such as are seen in Portugal, a country without the same kinds of net neutrality regulations which were seen in the U.S… And here, we return to the example of erstwhile Jedi knight Mark Hamill. Hamill’s viewpoints on the subject of net neutrality, specifically that FCC Chairman Pai is only acting in service to rich corporations, evidence a great lack of understanding of the net neutrality regime set up under former Chair Wheeler. It’s interesting to note that Hamill essentially sides with Google and the rest of the tech ruling class, companies which have much larger market caps and subscriber bases than the ISPs being regulated by the FCC. Those well-heeled members of the tech ruling class are the same ones that couldn’t be charged for their excessive use of bandwidth; that would be paid prioritization.
On Thursday, December 14th, the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will convene an open meeting to discuss several subjects, one of which is titled Restoring Internet Freedom. According to news reports, the FCC is likely to approve this order in a 3-2 vote along party lines to return the classification of broadband Internet access service to its prior classification as information service… Despite the high likelihood that the order will be passed by the FCC’s commissioners, or maybe more because of that likelihood, there has been a lot of recent press on how the FCC under current Chairman Ajit Pai has drawn the ire of net neutrality supporters.
Lost in all of this rhetoric over Chairman Pai’s supposed interest in limiting Internet access for Americans are the activities being overseen by Pai which are in the service of restoring Internet access to victims of natural disasters. On October 3rd, the day after Pai was confirmed for his second term, the FCC announced that it would make up to $76.9 million in funding available to aid in repairing wireline and wireless communication networks to restore communications services in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, two U.S. territories which have seen incredible infrastructure damage caused by two major hurricanes in recent weeks. The tech media world’s desire to cast FCC Chairman Pai in the least favorable light possible means that, while the net neutrality issue gets a great deal of coverage from the likes of Ars Technica, The Verge and CNET, the announcement on funding hurricane repairs to restore Internet access barely gets any coverage because it doesn’t fit a narrative. Outside of Reuters and Engadget, American news consumers would be hard-pressed to find details of that initiative.
The Facebooks, Googles and Netflixes of the world, edge providers that provide Internet services via websites but not an Internet connection like ISPs offer, have every reason to support the current net neutrality regime at the FCC because it benefits their bottom line, preventing ISPs from charging them for the incredible amount of bandwidth which they eat up. Proponents of net neutrality have presented the debate to the public as the individual consumer versus the larger ISPs, which has been successful in increasing regulations for ISPs having much smaller subscriber bases and lower market capitalizations than edge providers. While ISPs are prevented from zero-rating, or offering digital content for free to subscribers, under the current net neutrality regime, Facebook and Twitter are increasingly offering live sports broadcasts for free to their users.
Facebook is not the only company seeking to provide content to consumers via their own Internet-based platforms. In early May, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) announced a deal with San Francisco-based social media firm Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) to livestream 20 games per year over multiple seasons on the social media platform. The first WNBA game livestreamed on Twitter on Sunday, May 14th, earned 1.1 million viewers, nearly one-third the average audience watching National Football League (NFL) games streamed on Twitter during the 2016-17 season. Seattle-based Internet e-commerce giant Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) will livestream Thursday night NFL games during the 2017-18 season for $50 million, a sum which is reportedly about five times what Twitter paid to broadcast NFL games last year. Twitter’s WNBA deal and Amazon’s NFL deal both include promotional efforts on behalf of the Internet companies to promote either sports league.
Between 2014 and 2016, Pai said that the country’s 12 largest ISPs have decreased their spending by $3.6 billion, a drop of 5.6 percent in investment. Pai also cited a letter sent to the FCC from a collection of 22 ISPs, each serving about 1,000 customers or fewer, who argue that the Title II common carrier regulations have affected their ability to obtain financing and have at least slowed the development and deployment of new infrastructure and services… Pai believes that the return to a light-touch framework would benefit Americans in a variety of ways. The lighter regulatory framework should spur broadband deployment towards better Internet service, create jobs for Americans to deploy those networks, boost marketplace competition, end government micromanagement and secure Internet privacy by returning authority to the FTC.
Text messages sent between Andreesen and Erskine Bowles speak to Zuckerberg’s desire to be able to maintain control of Facebook while possibly serving two years in government… The fact that Zuckerberg is open to serving in government might actually carry some sway with the Trump transition team, which includes a Facebook connection through Peter Thiel… Given Zuckerberg’s stances on Internet issues, one possible position for Zuckerberg could be at the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Another regulatory issue other than antitrust thatis likely to surface during review of the AT&T-Time Warner merger is zero rating, or the practice of providing content for free to consumers on a network. The way that the FCC has implemented net neutrality certainly would indicate that zero rating would likely be regulated at some point, even though it would do so to the likely detriment of the American consumer… This June, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler indicated that the investigation into zero rating practices was ongoing. In mid-October, a group of 76 organizations signed another letter urging the FCC to issue rules making zero rating illegal, so the momentum in this area looks like it’s increasing.
There has been a rising tide of voices seeking to ensure that the Internet remains open to alternative viewpoints with easy access to all for years to come. In recent years, these groups have sought political avenues for ensuring that their ideals become the law of the land. For instance, many thousands of American citizens have supported net neutrality rules implemented by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), rules which have recently been upheld by a federal appellate court this June. Now, a consortium of civil rights and open technology groups are trying to make open Internet concepts an issue on the political trail leading up to the election of the next U.S. President.
Clinton’s tech agenda revolves around five main points that she hopes will lead to American dominance in research and development as well as overall innovation. First, she’s pledged to devote resources to educational innovations that will position U.S. workers well for the well-paying tech jobs of today and the near future. Second, she’s pushing for major infrastructure upgrades that she argues will bring broadband Internet access to a much wider audience. Her third point focuses on protecting American tech export interests to countries abroad. Her fourth agenda point discusses a framework by which concepts of the open Internet as well as personal privacy can be balanced. Finally, her fifth point hones in on the ways that technology can make government agencies more efficient and effective.
ISPs have increasingly come under the focus of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the agency’s chairman, Tom Wheeler. The FCC is fresh from a major victory on its net neutrality rules which were recently upheld by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. That victory has now placed some momentum on data privacy rules proposed this March by the FCC, rules which would further protect ISP consumers by ensuring that their ISP sees as little of their data as possible. Some industry analysts believe that the FCC will continue to take action, the proposed broadband privacy rules being one part of that action. Other rules proposed by the FCC would open up set-top boxes to third-party cable providers as well as prevent zero-rating of data services, which allows consumers to access dedicated apps without being charged for data.