Mozilla To FCC: Hey, There's Another Way To Protect Net Neutrality

from the have-you-thought-of-this? dept

With all the hand-wringing over the FCC and net neutrality, the folks over at Mozilla have jumped into the fray, offering the FCC another possible path. Much of the fight is over whether or not the FCC should "reclassify" broadband providers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, thereby making them "telco services" (subject to common carrier rules) or leave them under Title I as "information services" (not subject to common carrier rules). The problem is that even though they almost certainly should be telco services, the political shitstorm it would create to reclassify means that no one in the FCC seems to have any interest in kicking off that particular political battle (not to mention that the FCC would be required to have a very good reason for why it's changing the designation -- beyond just "we think it's better.")

Mozilla's plan is a somewhat crafty attempt to avoid the worst of the political mess that reclassification would cause, by arguing that there are two separate markets: the markets for broadband providers to end users (i.e., our own broadband bills) and then a separate market for the relationship between internet companies (what Mozilla is calling "edge providers") and the broadband providers. Mozilla is saying that since these are separate markets, the FCC could reclassify just the connection between internet companies and broadband providers as telco services, and leave the last mile setup unchanged as an information service. Thus, it's arguing that the transit market more accurately reflects a telco service, and thus would be much easier to reclassify. In a sense, this would also be a way to attack the interconnection problem, which is where the net neutrality debate has effectively shifted.

As Stacey Higginbotham notes, this is a way that Mozilla is more or less calling FCC boss Tom Wheeler's bluff concerning his willingness to use Title II reclassification -- opening up a way to do so with (just slightly) less political fallout (and probably a more legally defensible argument in court for why it's reclassifying). Karl Bode is reasonably skeptical that Wheeler or the FCC would ever actually go this route, given the general "lack of spine" the FCC has shown for years on these issues. On top of all that, Wheeler himself still doesn't seem willing to admit (publicly, at least) that the fights over interconnection and access are related to the net neutrality problem, so he'd have to make that leap before necessarily agreeing to try this path.

Still, that doesn't mean it's a bad idea. In fact, by making it just slightly more feasible both politically and (importantly) legally, there's a chance that maybe, just maybe, the FCC will seriously look at this option. I'll agree that the probability is still quite low, but it's not zero. There do appear to be folks in the FCC who have been desperately seeking alternatives to the current, unpalatable options on net neutrality, and Mozilla's suggestion offers a path that is less politically and legally fraught than full reclassification. It would still be a massive leap, and would require an FCC with a spine (which makes it unlikely), but it's just that much more likely than full reclassification to make things interesting.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 11:15am

    This is doable

    But Wheeler isn't going to do it.


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

    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 11:22am

    We've been saying for years, decades even, that the ISPs were trying to fuck us.
    So does it come as a surprise to anybody that the ISPs are fucking us?


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

    Mason Wheeler (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 11:27am

    Who cares about the political issues it would raise? I say bring it on. Attempt to classify ISPs as the public utilities that they are... and then watch what happens. It would be like a hunter flushing birds out: do something that startles them, see what reacts, and you know exactly what to aim at. Make sure that any politician that freaks out and comes down on the wrong side of the issue never gets reelected.


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    Michael, May 6th, 2014 @ 11:31am


    Who cares about the political issues it would raise?

    Unfortunately, the answer to that is the FCC leadership. They care because their jobs and future job possibilities depend on their political connections.


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

    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 11:33am

    FCC: LA LA LA LA. What? Yes, exactly what we said. There's NO other way to do it!

    FCC will keep pretending this isn't a solution.


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    Michael, May 6th, 2014 @ 11:38am


    FCC will keep pretending this isn't a solution

    The FCC will keep pretending there isn't a problem.


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

    Violynne (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 11:39am

    This is a bad idea. In fact, both classifications are bad ideas because both were regulated/classified before "dot com" was a household word.

    What the FCC needs to do is simple: create a new classification, Digital Carrier, which covers all of the line from the last mile to the distribution point. Anything transmitted as a digital signal would be regulated such that:
    -No digital signal may be blocked or throttled
    -No business may "double dip" (or more) the data stream (good bye, triple tier cable bills)
    -Companies may share existing lines
    -All companies must utilize load bearing services when beneficial to both transmission and server load

    Because the FCC is toothless, however, nothing Wheeler (et al) say matters to anyone. Verizon and Comcast (just to name two of the worst companies in America) will simply bog down any change in court and consumers will continue to have zero options as the Oligopoly Monopoly continues to set prices behind closed doors.

    If the FCC can't do what they're supposed to do, the only thing I can see as forthcoming is if consumers take matters into their own hands and build their own system.

    Of course, companies will just sue this out of existence, too.


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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 11:54am

    This proposal make little sense to me. How can the FCC enforce the rules without the whole provider being Title II?

    Basically they are saying that the line to my house is Title I and thus allowed to be tampered with, but the ISP can not decide which providers traffic will flow through on the backbone circuits (A core reason people use BGP instead of static routes).

    I understand what they are trying to do, ie stop Comcast from purposely degrading peering links to affect specific services like Netflix, but the resolution doesn't fit with reality. IE. I don't see them being able to force Comcast to purchase more bandwidth from Level3, and I doubt they have the technical expertise to judge traffic flows to show how Comcast could have avoided the congestion in the first place.

    Just make them Title II completely and shoot both birds.


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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 11:55am


    How about a reverse TOS?

    No service provider may sue over new legislation.

    They do it to us, so this is fair play by their terms.


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    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 12:04pm


    While I applaud Mozilla's attempt to fix a big issue, whether the idea works or not, I have to say that Mozilla is getting a bit big for its britches.

    The recent update to Firefox v29 was so bad that I have dumped their browser after having used it since about six months after their inception, and Mosaic before that. Too many changes that were not needed, and from other backlash I have read, not wanted. For me it was the URL's being blacked out with black and gray blocks. I don't trust not being able to see the actual URL I am on. I hear rumors of Google doing this to Chrome/Chromium, and if they do, they will lose me too.

    Development for the sake of development is not a good thing. Striving to be ahead of the other guy makes no sense if the changes you make, make no sense.


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

    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 1:02pm

    The last time we had a last mile monopolies like this, the Federal Government had to step in and breakup the Bell System monopoly.

    Now we have last mile cable monopolies who do not compete with one another. We're right back to square one with history repeating itself all over again.

    We're even experiencing the incumbent cable industries attempting to block other ISPs from interconnecting to their networks at internet exchange points.

    Exactly like Bell Systems did with their network.


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    Mason Wheeler (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 1:42pm

    Re: Mozilla

    For me it was the URL's being blacked out with black and gray blocks. I don't trust not being able to see the actual URL I am on. I hear rumors of Google doing this to Chrome/Chromium, and if they do, they will lose me too.

    I'm still using Firefox, and I have no idea what you're talking about. I've never seen any URLs anywhere in the UI being covered by redaction boxes, in any version.


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    Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 1:55pm

    There is a precedent for this type of system in the electric utility market. There exists both "transmission" and "distribution" providers. Transmission providers provide move electricity across the country in bulk and are highly regulated. Distribution providers are generally the local electric company go the last mile.


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

    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, May 6th, 2014 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re: Mozilla

    Don't know why the URLs were blacked out, even a purge and re-installation did not help, and that was not the only thing. This issue presented itself in the Linux installation, but not the Windows 8.1 installation. It is a security issue for me.

    The other things included, that affected both installations, but were not limited to their move to look like chrome, the changes they made to Sync, the disappearance of the tool bar, etc.


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

    John Fenderson (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 2:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mozilla

    "Don't know why the URLs were blacked out"

    It was a bug. They fixed it a few days ago.

    BTW, if you hate the new interface, you can get the old one back really easily by installing the "Classic Theme Restorer" plugin. Worked like a charm for me!


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

    Kronomex, May 6th, 2014 @ 3:04pm

    As long as the corporate lobbyists keep the pig trough full and the brown envelopes coming the politicians will make grunting noises and do nothing.


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    farooge (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 3:29pm

    I love this idea

    For the time being ... this is a great compromise.


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

    BernardoVerda (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 8:15pm

    A non solution from the other side is still not a solution

    At first I wondered if this idea from Mozilla might be a clever idea, but upon reflection, it's a pretty stupid notion.

    Instead of having a politicized, ersatz "net neutrality" on the consumer/last-mile side, we're supposed to replace it with an even weaker, politicized, faux "net neutrality" on the corporate first-mile side?

    Actual net neutrality has no interest in which end of the wire you are on, nor which side of the network you are on, nor what data you're transmitting. An end-point is still an end-point, a device is still a device, and a packet is still a packet. While Mozilla's proposed fiddling of the regulations is in its way rather clever , it simply doesn't address the actual problem.


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    Roland, May 6th, 2014 @ 8:20pm


    The ISPs' complaint is asymmetry in the flow of data. But it is an asymmetry that they caused. With decent bandwidth up AND down, everyone could run servers, and the distinction between content delivery and end users would disappear. Just as the distinction between news reports and news consumers is disappearing with the arrival of video cellphones. Just like home solar panels are blurring the distinction between power consumers & producers. Symmetry is actually a good thing, but the big ISPs are just hypocrites.


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

    any moose cow word, May 6th, 2014 @ 9:16pm

    It's funny how the FCC could reclassify ISPs under Title I during the Bush administration without much fuss, but now it's near impossible to move them back to Title II where they should have been all along.


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    royleith (profile), May 6th, 2014 @ 11:59pm

    The Broadband Service

    It's worth asking why anyone buys Internet access service.

    An Internet Service Provider uses a fast, broadband connection to the internet (if they have to!) for a rental charge. The Internet is not a content provider: it is connectivity only and that is what the service customers contract for. The customer expects to have full access to any legal Internet supported product or service.

    In addition, the ISP may offer additional services; some based on connectivity such as email and VOIP and some based on content provision such as 'broadcast' and on-demand television.

    I gather that each ISP in the USA is a government authorised commercial monopoly for the provision of Internet service.

    When Microsoft used their monopoly to act anti-competitively against Netscape (which was later adopted by Mozilla) the courts found that they were violating the Sherman Act. That was on the basis that Netscape, Java and other programs provided a potential OS-like platform (web and java based programs) that could compete with Windows.

    I'm not sure that this applies to Internet provided content services, but it does apply to competing Internet-provided connectivity services including cloud-based services.

    Let's just ask the DOJ to take the irresponsible ISPs to court for using a business monopoly for anti-competitive activities and extorting non-market related tariffs from other companies.


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    Whatever, May 7th, 2014 @ 4:39am

    Another cool story!

    Cool story. Mozilla's attempts are nice, but they fail on the face because they quite simply do not line up with other laws on the books, including DMCA.

    The real issue at hand is that overall US law needs to set to define different classes of connectivity providers, and to define the rules for each unique to their position in the web. You have ISP who provide final mile, those who do hosting / cloud stuff, interconnect and transit companies, and so on. For the FCC, they could group final mile ISPs are Telcos and class interconnects are data services, and regulate them differently based on that.


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    Anonymous Coward, May 7th, 2014 @ 7:07am


    If your government shuts down the internet, shut down your government.


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

    Pragmatic, May 7th, 2014 @ 8:41am

    Re: Re:

    And we all remember how well that worked out for us, Sparky.


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

    Pragmatic, May 7th, 2014 @ 8:44am


    Well, they've got work to do. Again. We really need to break up the oligopoly on telcos because the internet needs to be decentralized as much to ensure competition between providers as to ensure that the internet does not become balkanized.


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

    Simonzee1, May 9th, 2014 @ 12:32am

    Governments keep your grubby hands of our Internet.
    At the moment governments only have a few levers over Google and Facebook and other companies. They have their closed door meetings with Obama but if Obama gets his way with the FCC and FEC to stifle online media of the conservative kind he can do it for any kind.
    Clearly the idea is to reverse engineer the internet by putting tolls online. It would be like a toll being applied to all existing and proposed roads for the driver on a freeway. To surf online you would have to pay a toll. As soon as you introduce tolls you have regulation and the more regulation the better for these illiberals in the Democrats.
    They want as many levers to pull as possible and the federal government wants to be pulling the levers of censorship and not leave this these irregular meetings and public tiffs with Google or Facebook. What this would do is have the internet pulled way of a toll..into a government licensing system. Wheras Google and Facebook can charge what they like at present for listings and advertisement this could be regulated through the Fast Lane.
    Before you know it we would all be paying tolls and have the content regulated under FCC and FEC powers. We have seen senior management at these agencies warning of governments wanting to go after their political opponents. One other thing that would happen like with the health industry is that these fast lane provisers would always be applying to up fees based on maintaing what they say is an optimal service as more people use the bandwidth. This again would put the power in the hands of the regulator for approving or denying increases. Again their is potential for manipulation here of these proposed fast lanes by government..exluding content or slowing it down for political purposes..

    Idon't know about you but I don't want to see a strengthening partnership between Hollywood online media and the government all working together within a left or right wing fascist framework. Keep the internet free from this Obama administrations reverse engineering and grubby hands. Their left wing manipulation and deception seems to have no end.
    . et-neutrality-but-why.htm


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

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