Some Of The Best Net Neutrality Reporting Is... Coming From Sites Owned By Verizon?

from the well,-that's-cool... dept

You may remember, a few years ago, Verizon attempted to start its own tech blog, called "SugarString," where the founding editor they hired was telling potential reporters they couldn't write about net neutrality. After that got mocked around the web, the whole idea of SugarString faded away. However, these days, Verizon actually owns a ton of content sites. It bought AOL in 2015, which already owned the Huffington Post, Techcrunch, Engadget and more. More recently, of course, it bought Yahoo as well. Suddenly, Verizon owns a ton of tech reporting.

And here's the amazing thing: some of the best reporting about how awful Ajit Pai's net neutrality proposal is... is coming from those sites now owned by Verizon. For example, over at Yahoo News, Rob Pegoraro has been doing a great job debunking many of Ajit Pai's claims about the history of the internet. In particular, Pai and his supporters keep insisting that the move by then FCC boss Tom Wheeler in 2015 to reclassify broadband under Title II upset a consensus going back to the Bill Clinton years that broadband was not under Title II. Except that's... just wrong:

Pai led off with a dubious recap of history. In his telling, broadband thrived from the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 until Pai's predecessor, former FCC chair Tom Wheeler, forced through today's net-neutrality rules that subject internet providers to phone-company "common carrier" regulations dating back to the 1930s that require the equal treatment of customers' traffic.

"Two years ago, the federal government's approach suddenly changed," Pai said. "The FCC, on a party-line vote, decided to impose a set of heavy-handed regulations upon the internet."

But as the FCC's own site shows, the commission didn't reclassify cable providers to lift them out of the common-carrier bucket until March 14, 2002, not 1996.

That's when the commission reclassified cable providers from open-ended "telecommunications services" to "information services" — a term that as, described in the 1996 law, better fits proprietary online services like floppy-disk-era AOL.

The commission didn't extend the same treatment to phone-based providers until 2005.

There's a lot more in that piece as well, correcting the blatant factual errors in Ajit Pai's claims about net neutrality.

Of course, you might claim that Verizon just purchased Yahoo, so perhaps word had not yet filtered down. But let's shift over to TechCrunch, which has been on the AOL banner for years, and the Verizon/AOL banner for quite some time as well. Over there, a reporter by the name of Devin Coldewey has written a series of truly excellent articles about the FCC's plans to roll back net neutrality. Those pieces are thorough, detail-oriented and not prone to the sorts of hyperbole that (unfortunately) have been seen on both sides of the net neutrality debate. For example, look at his article from last week that carefully goes through the arguments against net neutrality that people are making, and then carefully debunks each one. The piece is so damn good, I wish we ran it ourselves. For example, here's just one of the eight separate arguments that he debunks:

We’re not trying to remove net neutrality rules, just Title II

TL;DR: Removing the rules is literally in the proposal

It is frequently said that the point is not to remove the rules themselves, just change the authority to something a little less heavy-handed.

This is a puzzling assertion to make when the proposal itself asks over and over again whether the “bright line” rules of no blocking, no throttling, etc should be removed. It’s pretty clear that proponents don’t think the rules are necessary and will eliminate them if they can. Just because they frame their preference in the form of a question doesn’t make it any less obvious.

A sort of corollary to this argument is that internet providers will voluntarily adhere to suggested practices. This is a pretty laughable suggestion, and even if it were true, it self-destructs: if companies have no problem subjecting themselves to these restrictions, how can they be as onerous as they say?

Then, this week, once the rules were actually released, Coldewey absolutely destroys the key argument that Ajit Pai's FCC is making about the rules, noting that it appears to be a deliberate misrepresentation of how the internet works:

The first point the FCC makes is regarding the text of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and how it defines “telecommunications service” (how broadband is currently defined, allowing net neutrality rules to be effected) and “information service” (how it was before the net neutrality rule).

Now, I’m going to list the two definitions. Which one do you think sounds like what a broadband provider does?

  1. “The offering of a capability for generating, acquiring, storing, transforming, processing, retrieving, utilizing, or making available information via telecommunications, and includes electronic publishing, but does not include any use of any such capability for the management, control, or operation of a telecommunications system.”
  2. “The transmission, between or among points specified by the user, of information of the user’s choosing, without change in the form or content of the information as sent and received.”

Take your time.

...

Okay. Number 2, right? Because your ISP doesn’t store the data you post on Facebook, or the address you look up on Google Maps, or the Pope you read about on Wikipedia. It’s edge providers like the ones I just mentioned that do all the “generating, acquiring, storing,” and so on. ISPs just transmit the information, don’t they?

Perhaps it would surprise you, then, to hear that the FCC has the exact opposite idea of how the internet works!

This is good stuff. Thorough, careful, and detailed facts that totally undermine Ajit Pai and the FCC's arguments. And it's coming from a site owned by Verizon. Now, obviously, the good news out of this is that it appears that Verizon is not interfering with editorial on these sites. That's actually encouraging (though I do wonder if the company will push to have "the other side" heard on these sites as well). Honestly, though, the links above are to three of the best pieces I've seen on net neutrality and how the arguments being made by Ajit Pai are either faulty, bogus or, at the very least, misrepresent reality. It's just icing on the cake that they happen to be on sites owned by Verizon, a company that has been at the center of the fight to kill net neutrality, and even had to drum up a fake journalist to talk to one of its execs, who insisted that the company really loved net neutrality (note: it does not).


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 9:35am

    What have you done?!

    Shhht! Don't tell them!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 9:56am

    So much fake journalism and misrepresentation that they seem to have gotten confused.

    You try spinning around as many times on this issue as they do and not getting dizzy!

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

  • icon
    Rob Pegoraro (profile), 25 May 2017 @ 10:57am

    Thanks! But, technically, Verizon doesn't own Yahoo yet; the transaction isn't scheduled to conclude until sometime in June. Not that I will write about net-neutrality issues any differently after then...

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

  • identicon
    Matthew M Bennett, 25 May 2017 @ 12:29pm

    For like the 20th time, the way to net neutrality is not giving government control of the internet. Just break up the ISPs, let the free market work it out, and keep government the hell away from it.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 May 2017 @ 1:46pm

      Re:

      Just break up the ISPs, let the free market work it out, and keep government the hell away from it.

      . What's to stop them from remerging same as before?

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

      • icon
        Eldakka (profile), 25 May 2017 @ 5:57pm

        Re: Re:

        What's to stop them from remerging same as before?

        Maybe some sort of review process could be put in place to assess any such mergers? To examine things like the effect of the merger, such as will it reduce competition in a way that will harm consumers?

        And if it finds problems with a proposed merger/takeover, maybe it could dictate conditions on the post-merger entity to protect customers, such as having to divest certain business units, or provide certain minimal services, to allow the merger to go ahead. If they don't agree with the conditions, it could prevent the merger. And if the merger goes ahead, it could monitor compliance and issue meaningful penalties and under color of law enforceable directions to enforce compliance.

        Maybe a regulatory body could be formed with the authority to perform such oversight? Call it something like, oh I don't know, the Federal Communications Commission? Something like that.

        Oh, wait, nevermind.

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

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 25 May 2017 @ 7:47pm

      Re:

      Like, what, some guy with an axe simply has not thought of this or acted yet?

      Who, pray tell, would break up ISP's or prevent mergers in the first place?

      By the way, it isn't government control of the internet, not by a long shot. It's government rules for carriers. Those are the pesky corporations to which you refer. The free market didn't work out in the first place, which is why one has regulations. Sure, they are subject to capture. But without them... well, ISPs, telcos, and all the others simply skip a step of having to lobby and all.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 May 2017 @ 12:39am

    The concept to reclassify ISPs started out in the mid 90s about the same time the internet became a "thing" in the public's mind. Like all good government eork it took years to rapidly jam through poorly thought out rules.

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

  • identicon
    Chuck, 26 May 2017 @ 7:53am

    Hindsight

    It's funny, but if you had asked me 10 years ago if, 10 years later, I'd be wishing Tom Wheeler was the head of the FCC, I'd have laughed your ass to the nearest location with more than one cable company providing internet service (which is about 145 miles away, even now.)

    But given what he did during his tenure and what Pai has been doing so far, I'll just ask this now so the rest of you don't have to spend the next year trying to wash the taste out of your mouth: "Can we PLEASE get Tom Wheeler back?"

    Ugh...mouthwash time!

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


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