Politicians Freak Out Over New FCC Neutrality Moves, Not Realizing They Probably Won't Do Anything

from the I-have-absolutely-no-idea-what-I'm-upset-about dept

Now that I've had some additional time with the FCC boss Tom Wheeler's new net neutrality proposal and have talked to a few lawyers and consumer advocates, I'm starting to think the agency's announcement was almost entirely political theater. All the FCC really said is that it wouldn't appeal the Verizon case, and would begin a meandering public conversation about how to vaguely protect the Internet under shaky Section 706 authority the FCC knows it doesn't have. Layered on top were empty promises about improving competition and some empty threats about reclassifying ISPs as common carriers if they don't behave (which is supposed to be a threat, but every ISP lobbyist on K Street knows they won't do this if they weren't willing to do it already).

In short, the FCC vaguely promised to maybe think about some stuff after a glacial, year long conversation. Cue the absolute, unbridled, partisan hyperbole shitstorm:
"Ranking Republicans called the FCC's efforts to revive net-neutrality rules "a solution in search of a problem," and plan to fight any new rules. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee will introduce legislation in the coming weeks to block what she calls the "socialistic" proposal. "Federal control of the Internet will restrict our online freedom and leave Americans facing the same horrors that they have experienced with HealthCare.gov," Blackburn said in a statement."
You apparently don't understand that the FCC's proposal won't actually do anything, but you do know it's certainly socialist and freedom killing? The sad part is that issues like a healthy, functioning Internet with competitive balance really shouldn't be partisan at all. It's in the interest or everyone that networks work well and that honest, healthy competition improves service and drives down costs, while limiting the bad behavior of large network gatekeepers.

Well ok, not everyone. If you actually want to understand whether a policy will be good or bad for consumers, ignore all the think tanks and politicians and watch the ISP response. Specifically watch AT&T, which has the biggest lobbyist operations and the biggest mouth when truly consumer-friendly policy gets passed. AT&T supported the original rules because they had oodles of loopholes and didn't cover wireless (Verizon only sued in the hopes of killing off FCC authority entirely). Note how AT&T thinks all this socialist freedom killin' is just a splendid idea:
"AT&T, the second-largest wired broadband provider in the U.S., said it believes the FCC has the authority under Section 706 to preserve Internet openness...."AT&T has built its broadband business, both wired and wireless, on the principal of Internet openness," AT&T said in a statement. "That is what our customers rightly expect, and it is what our company will continue to deliver. That is also why we endorsed the FCC's original rule on Net neutrality, and is why we pledged to adhere to openness principles even after the recent court decision."
Knowing the FCC pretty well after more than a decade of watching them, what I think you'll ultimately see at the end of this new "conversation" is a cross-industry set of self-regulatory voluntary guidelines "prohibiting" ISPs from doing the kinds of things they never intended to do anyway -- like blocking your access to entirely legal websites. There might be particular cases where the FCC pushes for greater transparency in peering debates (especially if the ongoing Netflix standoff doesn't improve), but nothing that will truly rattle any slats. The primary goal here is making sure incumbent ISPs maximize revenues and keep the campaign contributions coming. Consumer protection is just pillow talk. For both parties.

What you won't see in any way (and probably wouldn't be enforceable under 706 anyway) is hard rules governing the more subtle sort of things network neutrality folks should actually be worried about, such as predatory pricing and the use of broadband usage caps as a weapon (like AT&T's "sponsored data"). This, unfortunately for consumers, is considered "creative pricing innovation" by both the current FCC and industry alike, and the only ones who should be freaking out at the moment are the people who are going to foot the bill for all this supposed creativity.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    pavlov's dog, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:28am

    I'm salivating for some of that there "sponsored data."

     

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  2.  
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    JWW (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:37am

    They are not completely wrong

    The people fighting the bills in congress are not completely wrong.

    A piecemeal approach to "Net Neutrality" will allow the FCC to meddle with the internet, and they may eventually meddle in ways we don't like.

    Common carrier for the internet is the only way to go. Regulatory shenanigans prevented it in the past, but now it is long past due.

     

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  3.  
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    Baron von Robber, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:38am

    "Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee will introduce legislation in the coming weeks to block what she calls the "socialistic" proposal. "Federal control of the Internet will restrict our online freedom..."

    Dammit! She broke my Irony-O-Meter!!

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:53am

    If the ISPs are happy about it the consumers are screwed.

     

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  5.  
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    anon, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:54am

    Sad

    Eventually the isps will be given enough rope to hang themselves they actually have the rope now and Verizon slowing netflix traffic is the start of the hanging.

    The only outcome for the internet is to be reformed to be the same as telephone lines as that is all it really is.. a method to access data over the internet.If an isp cannot supply the bandwidth they have sold to customers they must be forced to upgrade there systems or lower their prices accordingly.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 7:58am

    I'm so sick of these Idiots tossing the word socialism around my heads going to explode , Don't they realize their parties by definition are a socialistic entity.

     

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  7.  
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    jupiterkansas (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 8:02am

    I think we know who Blackburn represents

    Blackburn's top contributors in 2012:

    Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, National Cable & Telecommunications Association, National Association of Broadcasters

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 8:04am

    Re:

    As it happens, the market of irony-o-meters has been completely free of any regulation, so you are free to buy a new one from the vendor of your choosing.

    In unrelated news, IronMe, Meteyolo, and Triple-O have been bought by BigIron, leaving them to be the market leader in the field. Triple-O was the last of the competitors, so your choice has now been made very easy;

    You can choose either BigIron NoGov(tm) or BigIron FactFree(tm), both of which should serve all of your needs!

    In other unrelated news, BigIron has recently seen the need to make a small change in payment options, to better provide their services. The flat fee has been removed, and you can now choose between LowIrony for only 250$ a week, with an added fee of 10$ per irony detected, or the MaxIrony all-you-can-meter, which has a monthly fee of 2000$, but will cost you only 5$ per irony!

    Additional fees for detecting Irony from organizations that have no direct affiliation with BigIron costs an additional 15$ per detected irony.

    Pricing model subject to change.

    Have a nice day!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Baron von Robber, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 8:13am

    Re: Re:

    But I had add-on like the Creationist Compensator with Ham controls and the Rep Roberts Privacy Protection that should have ensured a fail-safe from overload.

    Oh damn, I just read the ToS, section 2140-Ak2,
    "No claim you make will be paid".

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
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    Karl Bode (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 8:23am

    Re: They are not completely wrong

    Nearly every major policy effort at the FCC has, at its heart, an unyielding commitment NOT to upset the nation's biggest carriers. The FCC may occasionally LOOK like they're pushing hard regulations (like the original net neutrality rules that didn't do all that much), but people need to understand that about 90% of what comes out of their mouth is political theater.

    For example, promising to bring wireless broadband to 99% of the population (when that was going to happen without the FCC's help) or insisting they're entirely dedicated to improving competition (yet they never ever talk about, or release data on, broadband price).

    They're not going to madly start regulating the Internet. People worried about that should sleep much better than people worried about expensive broadband.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 8:29am

    i wonder whether the USA, now that it has thrown net neutrality out the window and it seems like nothing is going to be done to correct it (i assume there's been plenty of Benjamins flying around) will try to impose itself on to other countries, like it always does in so-called 'Trade Agreements' which always try to get everything for the USA and leave nothing but the possibilities of law suits and sanctions for the others involved? that could cause a real shit storm, i think!

     

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  12.  
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    Jayhawker, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 8:30am

    How to fix it

    If we really want Net Neutrality and have Blackburn really stop flapping her gums and STFU, Verison/TWC/Comcast needs to block FauxNoise/RedState/WND. The very next day, these Congress Critters would have a bill on the floor to to bring in true neutrality.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 10:11am

    It's in the interest or everyone that networks work well and that honest, healthy competition improves service and drives down costs, while limiting the bad behavior of large network gatekeepers.

    It's in the interest of everyone that networks work well and that honest, healthy competition improves service and drives down costs, while limiting the bad behavior of large network gatekeepers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 10:14am

    what's funny...

    ... is that, for all her talk of keeping the federal government's hands off the internet, Blackburn was one of the biggest supporters of SOPA, and continues to support the federal government getting its grubby hands all over the internet to block sites that her campaign supporters in Nashville insist are evil pirates...

     

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  15.  
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    Wally (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 10:16am

    Hold on...

    Layered on top were empty promises about improving competition and some empty threats about reclassifying ISPs as common carriers if they don't behave (which is supposed to be a threat, but every ISP lobbyist on K Street knows they won't do this if they weren't willing to do it already).

    Ok...here's the fun part...I sincerely believe that the FCC will reclassify ISP's as common carriers if they DO NOT behave at all...If I recall correctly, the last time they did this to an entire industry was because phone companies were charging hourly rates on long distance modem connections...and charging customers on their phone bills for using another company's lines...My parents also remember a time when the phone companies had an oligopoly similar to what the major ISP's have now...and they all split up into individual companies on the orders of the FTC...Maybe this is the same process the FCC has in mind...slow and sneaky.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 10:40am

    Either classify ISP's as common carriers, or dissolve the FCC. The FCC has outlived it's usefulness. It's all bark and no bite.

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 11:16am

    Re: Hold on...

    Not likely, Wally. Considering that the FCC is subject to regulatory capture by the telcos and cable industry, the FCC would be more likely to make it impossible for any good change to the status-quo than they would be to help consumers in any way. The future of the internet is looking very bleak for the USA.

     

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  18.  
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    Wally (profile), Feb 21st, 2014 @ 11:49am

    Re: Re: Hold on...

    I told my mother specifically about peering and what it was and her eyes sort of lit up like a Christmas Tree. She remembers when major phone companies in her time (when she was even a few years younger than my age) did it all the time...One of the biggest offenders of line peering was phone line peering between Bell Telephone Company and AT&T (no surprise on the latter now by the way)...They were a duopoly that charged their customers extra on long distance for users calling each other on different services...Hell...Bell even fought (and lost) trying to claim regulatory capture...It took the FCC 25 years to finally crack down...And boy howdy did they crack down hard after gathering 25 years of evidence...There's is always a paper trail, whether it be e-mail, paper bills, online data transactions between lines...the will always be a trail leading to the ultimate crack of the whip...Call it my American Sense of Optimism...I think that those statements made by the FCC are the beginning. ISP's challenged the FCC in court and may have won this round, but if I recall, it doesn't have a habit of covering loopholes...This includes declaring them common class ISP's...

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Feb 21st, 2014 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Re: Re: Hold on...

    For something like the AT&T breakup to happen, the offenses have to be so egregious, for such a long time, the people have to be mad and vocal enough in a political climate that is just right for the government to even initiate the action. Then it takes a lot of money, resources, and time to pursue. And even then, if it's successful the company fighting it can still sabotage a good amount of the effectiveness of it the way AT&T did. So I wouldn't be so optimistic about that.

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, Feb 24th, 2014 @ 3:14am

    Re:

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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