Congress Gives The FCC An Earful On Its Despised Plan To Kill Net Neutrality

from the Comcastic dept

At this point, more than sixteen million comments have been filed in response to the FCC’s myopic plan to kill net neutrality protections, the majority of them in fierce opposition to the idea. We’ve also noted how more than 900 startups, countless engineers, and a wave of large companies and websites have similarly urged Ajit Pai to stop, pause, and actually listen to what the majority of the country is saying. And what they’re saying is that they want Title II and net neutrality protections to remain in place to protect them from giant telecom duopolies with long histories of fiercely-anti-competitive behavior.

Unfortunately. there’s no indication that the Ajit-Pai lead FCC much cares. Pai’s FCC has made every effort to comically try to downplay this massive wave of opposition, and dress up the agency’s blatant giant gift to Comcast, AT&T and Verizon as an ingenious attempt to somehow restore “freedom” to the internet (yeah, big fucking citation needed).

Hoping to perhaps pressure Pai further, 11 Representatives and 21 Senators last week sent a formal comment to the FCC (pdf) insisting that the agency’s plan to gut net neutrality protections not only ignores the public interest, but the law as well:

We, as members of Congress who also sit on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, submit these comments out of deep concern that the FCC?s proposal to undo its net neutrality rules fundamentally and profoundly runs counter to the law. As participants either in the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 or in decisions on whether to update the Act, we write to provide our unique insight into the meaning and intent of the law.

The cornerstone of Pai’s plan is to reverse the agency’s 2015 decision to classify broadband providers as common carriers under the Telecommunications Act. That, in turn, is part of a long-standing AT&T, Comcast and Verizon effort to gut meaningful regulatory oversight of broadband providers and replace it with the policy equivalent of fluff and nonsense. And in a competitive market that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, since you could trust market competition to keep ISPs on their best behavior in terms of pricing, net neutrality, privacy, and everything else.

But as you might have noticed if you’ve looked at your Comcast bill lately, or paid any attention to the rotating crop of sleazy behavior by companies like AT&T, the broadband market isn’t competitive. In fact, decades of turning a blind eye to a lack of competition has left it downright hostile to any new disruptive entrants. As such, reducing what limited protections consumers and competitors currently enjoy would have dramatic, negative repercussions on consumer wallets and the health of the internet.

And while the FCC does have the authority to interpret the Telecom Act as it sees fit (much like Wheeler did in 2015), the Senators and Representatives are quick to point out in their letter that Pai and friends are twisting Congressional intent to flimsily justify their decision to reclassify ISPs as an ?information service” rather than a “telecommunications service” (you can check out our primer on this entire debate — and why this distinction matters — here):

“While the technology has changed, the policies to which we agreed have remained firm the law still directs the FCC to look at the network infrastructure carrying data as distinct from the services that create the data. Using today?s technology that means the law directs the FCC to look at ISP services as distinct from those services that ride over the networks.

The Commission?s proposal performs a historical sleight of hand that impermissibly conflates this fundamental distinction. The FCC proposes to treat network infrastructure as information services because the infrastructure gives access to the services running over their networks. The FCC contends that ISPs are therefore ?offering the capability? to use the services that create the content. However this suggestion obliterates the distinction that Congress set in to law-we meant for the FCC to consider services that carry data separately from those that create data. The FCC?s proposal would therefore read this fundamental choice that we made out of the law. Under the proposal?s suggestion, no service could be a telecommunications service going forward.

The lawmakers are also quick to lambast the FCC for ignoring the massive groundswell of public opposition to reversal of the rules, as well as the agency’s relentless focus on using network investment as the sole cornerstone for determining whether the rules are useful:

“Americans overwhelming support stronger and clearer privacy rules. Yet the Commission?without comment?proposes to eliminate before-the-fact protections at the FCC in favor of an enforcement-only approach. The FCC should not degrade people?s privacy rights without thorough consideration. Instead of considering these critical national priorities, the proposal single-mindedly concentrates on one issue to the exclusion of all others: the raw dollars spent on network deployment. This narrow focus is clearly contrary to the public interest?if we had intended network investment to be the sole measure by which the FCC determines policy, we would have specifically written that into the law.

The problem, of course, is that ISP lobbyists have successfully managed to submerge this debate under the idiot-din of partisan politics, despite the health of the internet and broadband competition being of benefit to everyone. Polls repeatedly find that net neutrality protections have broad, bipartisan support among consumers of all political ideologies, but by framing this as a partisan debate, ISPs and their loyal, paid allies have successfully bogged the conversation down in inane partisan fisticuffs, sadly convincing an all-too-broad segment of the public that net neutrality is “a government takeover of the internet.”

As such, the fact that this particular letter was written largely by Democratic lawmakers only makes it fodder to be ignored by partisans, and it it shouldn’t be. Net neutrality is about preventing massive, incumbent ISPs from abusing a lack of broadband competition in a rotating crop of obnoxious, creative ways. Were either party actually interested in shaking off ISP campaign contributions and improving said competition we might be having a different conversation, but until then net neutrality is the only thing standing between a healthy, competitive internet and the predatory whims of regional telecom duopolies.

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Comments on “Congress Gives The FCC An Earful On Its Despised Plan To Kill Net Neutrality”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And just how many cable draped poles do you consider acceptable outside your house? Infrastructure that spans distance, like electricity/water/gas/phone/cable/Internet is best dealt with as a regulated monopoly, at least as far as owning the Infrastructure is concerned. Every country that has effective competition at the ISP level does so by regulating the infrastructure so that it is open to competing service providers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ajit Pai what kind of a name is that? Is this person American? Obviously this person is doing some globalmonger’ss bidding paying no attention to majority of Americans. These people should not feel so comfortable going against the grain of America for another global corporation. Especially not having an elected position.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Is all you do create and serve your own information? You’re an information service. (Google, Facebook, any other website)

Do you handle information created by others in any way? You’re a telecommunications service (every ISP without exception – whether they also offer their own information service is utterly irrelevant)

How is this so hard for Pai to understand?

Anonymous Coward says:

had these senators and representatives had some balls from the beginning and not allowed AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to be the law of the USA internet and Communications and allowed other companies to come into the fray, causing competition in the first place, maybe we wouldn’t have been in this position anyway! whether they have enough clout to stop Pai remains to be seen because sure as god made little green apples, he’s on a great big payday if he gets what he wants for those same companies mentioned above!

Anonymous Coward says:

(putting on tin hat for a moment) OK, so the telco monopolies are paying off the politicians. ALL the politicians, of course: if Tweedle Dee the plutocrat is likely to beat Tweedle Dum the demagogue, then the “Friends of T. Dee” gets a check for $1000 and the “Dummies to re-elect Dum” committee gets a check for $500.

Unless, of course, T. Dee breaks programming. In which case, next election, the “Dummies for Dum”, “Dum Dum ta Dum”, “Make Congress Dum Again”, etc, etc., etc., all get checks for $10,000 from each and every senior assistant vice operating offcier in each of the three regional telco monopolies; “Dee for You” campaign headquarters phones break down on election day; and salacious bits of conversation between Dee’s best friend and Dee’s second-best-friend’s wife leak onto the internet.

Just business as usual.

But are these politicians really breaking programming? If the telcos want this to be perceived as a partisan issue, then the greatest service that radicalized far-outwing members of the out-party can perform, is to reinforce that perception–by making loud partisan noises.

Which is exactly what’s happening now.

No, I don’t want to take off my tinfoil hat, the mind-control rays make my scalp itch.

Anonymous Coward says:

Part of the problem here is our current ‘Fuck You’ politics, where we support anything and everything that fucks over the other guy, rather than being for the greater benefit to the public and the country.

Rather than looking at it from a neutral position, people are of course taking up sides in hopes that it fucks the other guy.

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