Telco Trade Group USTelecom 'Supports' FCC Neutrality Rules, Just Not The FCC Actually Being Able To Enforce Them

from the I-support-you,-except-for-when-I'm-trying-to-kill-you dept

Despite the endless, breathless proclamations about "outdated, utility-style regulation" or the death of innovation, there's really only one reason ISPs don't want to be reclassified as common carriers by the FCC: the billions to be made by abusing the uncompetitive broadband last mile. The very threat of a regulator actually doing its job and establishing what are relatively thin consumer protections (just ask ISPs like Frontier, Cablevision, Sprint or Sonic.net) is really only a problem if you plan to make money off the backs of a captive audience that can't vote with its wallet.

Not too surprisingly, "we want the absolute right to aggressively abuse an uncompetitive U.S. broadband market" isn't a very sexy or compelling sales pitch. As such, ISPs have worked very hard to paint Title II as a bogeyman of mammoth proportions; an implementation of outdated regulations that will utterly demolish an amazing, hyper-competitive broadband landscape that doesn't actually exist. We've debunked these claims time and time again, but expecting to find a middle ground with lobbyists paid to be intractable is a bit like playing whac-a-mole with an army of invincible undead.

Enter USTelecom, an AT&T-dominated trade group that filed one of five lawsuits last week against the FCC's net neutrality rules. Trying to justify the group's lawsuit to the media, USTelecom boss Walter McCormick this week proclaimed that the group really was ok with the FCC's rules -- it just wasn't ok with the agency having the ability to enforce them:
"US Telecom President Walter McCormick says his association supports the substance of the FCC's new open Internet rules as outlined by the FCC and President Obama, which is no blocking or throttling or paid prioritization. He suggested in an interview on C-SPAN's Communicators series that that was not a heavy lift because his industry operates under those standards already."
Right, well, I adhere to the "standards" stopping me from claiming I'm a magic, sentient fire truck, too (do I need to mention such rules don't exist?). And as we've noted repeatedly, ISPs are smart enough to know that outright blocking of content or websites is PR seppuku, which is why ISP attention has shifted toward things like interconnection and zero rated apps -- areas where ISPs can extract their pound of flesh -- without obviously looking like they're trying to extract their pound of flesh. "We're uh, just getting our fair share from Netflix and trying to help the poor!"

Most of USTelecom's talking points are staler than three-month-old crackers, including this idea that broadband ISPs really want Congress to tackle net neutrality:
"McCormick said the government had a role in protecting the Open Internet, but he said that role should be defined by the U.S. Congress, which has not provided guidance in 20 years. "It is time for Congress to provide the commission with clear authority to guarantee an open Internet, but to prevent the commission from having to redefine the entire Internet..." McCormick insisted he was optimistic that Congress could act. "There is absolute consensus on the problem," he said, and that there is not clear authority, and that the solution is for Congress to supply that clear authority."
Of course, this burning desire to punt the issue to Congress is fueled by the knowledge that, slathered in lobbying cash, Congress either will pass bad laws that benefit USTelecom's members, or do nothing at all after being intentionally bogged down in obnoxiously-simplistic partisan discourse over an issue that isn't really partisan. Neutrality opponents Senator John Thune and Representative Fred Upton have been putting on an adorable pony show claiming they want a "bipartisan" solution to net neutrality, when all they're really trying to do is codify a law that will keep wolves in charge of policing the hen house.

The great irony, of course, is that (after fifteen years of deregulation, it should be noted) the FCC's rules don't actually change all that much -- and they certainly don't get to the core of the broadband industry's great disease -- a lack of broadband competition. The agency has made it clear it intends to forbear from the lion's share of Title II utility regulations, and if you pay attention, FCC boss Tom Wheeler has given every indication that he doesn't see things like zero rating as a big deal. Most people, and a growing number of ISPs, acknowledge you'd have to engage in some particularly idiotic, ham-fisted abuses to even get on the FCC's radar.

Still, the very notion that the FCC might shrug off lobbyist influence and do the bare minimum to actually protect consumers is the kind of "disaster" USTelecom and AT&T feel they simply can't ignore.

Filed Under: authority, broadband, fcc, net neutrality
Companies: ustelecom


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  • icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), 22 Apr 2015 @ 6:31am

    Real net neutrality?

    These farks don't support real net neutrality, just their version of it. They are kind of like the IRS - how much did you make? Send it in!

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

  • icon
    tqk (profile), 22 Apr 2015 @ 8:05am

    Holy !@#$ on a stick, Batman!

    "There is absolute consensus on the problem," he said, and that there is not clear authority, and that the solution is for Congress to supply that clear authority."

    Of course, this burning desire to punt the issue to Congress is fueled by the knowledge that, slathered in lobbying cash, Congress either will pass bad laws that benefit USTelecom's members, or do nothing at all after being intentionally bogged down in obnoxiously-simplistic partisan discourse over an issue that isn't really partisan. Neutrality opponents Senator John Thune and Representative Fred Upton have been putting on an adorable pony show claiming they want a "bipartisan" solution to net neutrality, when all they're really trying to do is codify a law that will keep wolves in charge of policing the hen house.

    First, do educated, respected people really get away with saying !@#$ like that this century? Where in hell does he come up with "absolute consensus" in describing this issue? That is so patently absurd, I wonder if he's been locked in a dungeon with no news of what's going on in the world and told by his jailers to "Shut up and write what we tell you to write!"

    Secondly, is there no better proof of the fact that the Democrats and Republicans are merely two wings of the Always Governing Party than two corrupt and bribed politicians from the two parties combining forces to shovel this !@#$ for their mutual masters?

    Karl, you do great work and it's always a joy to read! I'm glad you enjoy stirring entrails like this. I'd never be able to hold anything down if I tried it.

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

  • icon
    Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 22 Apr 2015 @ 12:41pm

    Question: what exactly is a zero rated app? I never got the memo apparently.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Apr 2015 @ 1:09pm

      Re:

      One where its data does not count in your data cap, allowing unlimited data from the site that the app connects to.

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

      • icon
        Blackfiredragon13 (profile), 22 Apr 2015 @ 5:54pm

        Re: Re:

        Given how horrible some caps are, I actually wouldn't be opposed to that. Means I can go to here and reddit with less worrying about my plan.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 1:35am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Hardly, as you would have to check every link from reddit to see which are in the zero rate and which come out of your cap. Reddit is a site that would suffer if zero rates become common because people would never be sure of when they were using their cap.
          Zero rating will do things like make Spotify zero rated while keeping Soundcloud in the cap, and zero rating Netflix while keeping Youtube in the cap. In other words it blesses chosen sites, and curses those that the ISPs, who have ties to the content industry, dislike.

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

          • icon
            That One Guy (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 3:49am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Not to mention, more often than not, those 'blessed' with zero rating are either connected to the ISP in some way(they own them directly, or indirectly), or have paid, dearly, for the status. 'Zero rating' is a blatant money grab, a 'fix' to an artificial problem, pure and simple.

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

  • icon
    Teamchaos (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 6:54am

    Why is zero rating a bad thing?

    What does net neutrality have to do with zero rating? It sounds like zero rating is the same as watching free TV off the airwaves. A customer only has access to what is broadcast for free (a very limited set of channels) but if I want to pay more I can purchase access to other channels like HBO.

    If some corporation wants to pay for my data to access their web content, how is that any different from a TV station paying for my access to their content? How does this violate the tenants of net neutrality?

    Is any site that charges for its content violating net neutrality, since I can't access it (it's blocked to me) unless I pay for it. How is that different from paying a network provider to access a site, especially if the site is paying for my data to access the site.

    I understand that it puts smaller new sites at a disadvantage since they won't be able to afford to pay for users' data to access their sites, but if they offer great content why wouldn't consumers pay to access it (like folks do for HBO today)?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 7:28am

      Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

      With broadcast TV, the networks pay for the infrastructure used to deliver the content to you, and so long as you are in range of their signal you are free to receive there service. Further with cable, you can decide whether or not to buy the basic service, and any additional packages.

      With an ISP service you are paying for access to the Internet, and not a particular service on the Internet. With data-caps and zero rated services, you have no choice in what services you can use without restriction, and which are effectively cut off or become prohibitively expensive whenever you exceed your cap. So not only is zero rating making it difficult for smaller players to compete, it is also restricting the content available on the Internet that you can access.
      Unlike cable, it is not as if you have the option of paying for available content that is not in the packages you already have, it is a case of your ISP deciding what Internet content you can get.

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

      • icon
        Teamchaos (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 9:44am

        Re: Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I get it that if I'm paying for Internet access, I shouldn't have to pay my ISP more to access certain sites. I'm still not sold that the site itself, like Netflix, that consumes a significant portion of overall backbone bandwidth shouldn't have to pay something extra to support building out the backbone, but that's different discussion.

        How does the zero rate dynamic change if the consumer doesn't have to pay for internet access? I'm referring to Zuckerberg's Internet.org plan to provide free access to Facebook and a few other sites by paying the data charges.

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

        • icon
          tqk (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 9:52am

          Re: Re: Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

          I'm still not sold that the site itself, like Netflix, that consumes a significant portion of overall backbone bandwidth shouldn't have to pay something extra to support building out the backbone ...

          Netflix addresses that by supplying the ISPs with a "Content Delivery Network" (CDN) in house which removes pretty much all the load off the ISP, and ensures QoS to Netflix subscribers.

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

          • icon
            Teamchaos (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 11:19am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

            Thanks, I never knew that Netflix caches content locally to ensure effective delivery of its services.

            I'm assuming (and I could be wrong) that Netflix provides this service free to ISPs. It would seem that this is used to ensure that Netflix traffic is more effectively delivered to consumers than other online video sources. Wouldn't that give Netflix a huge advantage over other content providers?

            If Netflix coordinates with ISPs to ensure that Netflix traffic is more effectively delivered, how does that not violate the tenet of net neutrality which states that all traffic should be treated equally?

            After all if a rich company like Netflix can afford to place appliances which cache its content to ensure the QoS delivered to its subscribers, doesn't this put other sites which cannot afford to do this at a disadvantage? And by extension, is this not just another means of providing high quality access to some sites while others suffer?

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

            • icon
              John Fenderson (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 12:28pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

              "I'm assuming (and I could be wrong) that Netflix provides this service free to ISPs."

              They do, yes.

              "Wouldn't that give Netflix a huge advantage over other content providers?"

              Only if those other providers aren't also using CDNs (and they all are, as far as I know). CDNs have been around for a very long time now, and are widely used by all sorts of media delivery services. The difference with Netflix is that they run their own CDN rather than using a commercial third-party one.

              "If Netflix coordinates with ISPs to ensure that Netflix traffic is more effectively delivered, how does that not violate the tenet of net neutrality which states that all traffic should be treated equally?"

              Because Netflix is not asking for their packets to be given a priority over other packets of the same type. A CDN isn't a "fast lane". It's moving a server so it's closer to where the destination will be, so that packets don't have to travel as far over the internet.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 1:02pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

              After all if a rich company like Netflix can afford to place appliances which cache its content to ensure the QoS delivered to its subscribers, doesn't this put other sites which cannot afford to do this at a disadvantage?

              Not really, and can actually help the small sites by freeing up backbone capacity for those sites with few visitors, and where they do not have the demand in any area to justify putting servers near a group of users. When your site has a high demand for bandwidth, it is being a good citizen to use or install a content delivery network to keep the backbones clear for those small sites that cannot do this.

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

            • icon
              tqk (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 3:16pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

              ... is this not just another means of providing high quality access to some sites while others suffer?

              Netflix has the same problem as on-line gaming and millisecond stock trading: latency is a killer. They don't want their subscribers having to wait for buffering. Netflix could work as any other network based app, but QoS (in Netflix case, no buffering) demands they go the extra mile, whereas less latency dependent apps don't. I don't much care when it takes time for a web page to display. People watching movies do.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:41am

          Re: Re: Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

          I get it that if I'm paying for Internet access, I shouldn't have to pay my ISP more to access certain sites.I get it that if I'm paying for Internet access, I shouldn't have to pay my ISP more to access certain sites.
          The problem with zero rated apps and low data caps is worse than that, your ISP is effectively preventing you from making full use of high bandwidth sites that they do not belss.
          like Netflix, that consumes a significant portion of overall backbone bandwidth shouldn't have to pay something extra to support building out the backbone

          Netflix and similar sites directly pay for the backbone as that is who they pay for their network connections. Also as mentioned by tqk, they supply content delivery network kit, that is caching servers, to reduce the load on the backbone, along with server farms to reduce the load on intercontinental networks.
          The ISPs that connect consumers to the network are trying to leverage their control of the final mile to extract more money, and control what their consumers can access.

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

        • icon
          John Fenderson (profile), 23 Apr 2015 @ 10:52am

          Re: Re: Re: Why is zero rating a bad thing?

          "I'm still not sold that the site itself, like Netflix, that consumes a significant portion of overall backbone bandwidth shouldn't have to pay something extra"

          Netflix, like all internet services, pays for the bandwidth they use. The more bandwidth they are using, the more they pay. What is the argument that they should pay a surcharge? If the rates being charged for bandwidth aren't enough to cover infrastructure expenses, then the problem isn't Netflix, it's that the backbone providers aren't charging enough across the board to keep the business viable.

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


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