Net neutrality now as momentous as Janet Jackson’s nipple (2)

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Happy updates (July 25)

1) Ms Marsha. One of the best illustrations of the political clout wielded by the incumbent US broadband providers lies in their ability to kill any attempt at the creation of muni broadband networks. Twenty states have passed laws banning public-sector broadband alternatives, encouraged by the industry lobbies and those who might be harmed by competition, like poor, struggling Comcast. As I note in the 2nd para below, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee is one of the great congressional champions of this free-market exercise. She is more determined than ever to ensure nobody in her own state or any state ever gets better, more affordable service. Such is her reputation that in a comment posted to a story in Ars yesterday, a reader added this apology:

A bit off topic: As a Tennessee state resident, I’d like to personally apologize to the rest of the country, hell the world maybe for that matter, for Marsha Blackburn. Another fine example of what you can buy of [sic] you are a corporation with enough money to line the right pockets.

On the upside, Brodkin’s story is entitled “FCC gets its chance to overturn state limits on broadband competition” – reporting on a petition to the FCC from a community-owned electric utility to overturn the state law barring it from providing fiber-based Internet access – in Chattanooga (Tennessee!).

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2) Transparency enforcement. And in other good news related to policing the ISPs, the FCC on Wednesday issued an Enforcement Advisory that holds two surprises. The FCC will fine any broadband provider that intentionally misleads its customers; and the rule behind this notice is one of the few survivors of the DC Circuit appeal by Verizon that vacated most of the 2010 Open Internet Order. The advisory begins thusly:

Providers of broadband Internet access services must disclose accurate information about their service offerings and make this information accessible to the public. This requirement, known as the Open Internet Transparency Rule, has been in full force and effect since 2011. The Transparency Rule ensures that consumers have access to information that helps them make informed choices about the broadband Internet access services they buy, so that consumers are not misled or surprised by the quality or cost of the services they actually receive.

I’ve uploaded the pdf here.

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How about we blame the Republicans instead? (cont’d)

As I was saying in the previous post, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler should not be getting the rap for the open Internet NPRM issued in May. Especially not for his alleged determination to push through paid prioritization, since a) Wheeler has plainly disavowed it, and b) the Notice spends far more time analyzing other issues I see as a greater threat, like the utter lack of transparency or accountability in what broadband providers sell to the public. And picking this fight with paid prioritization is going to do nothing for the pro-Internet movement in the US or elsewhere (NPRM pdf here).

rep.-blackburn-2Instead, say I, opponents of the big-business, anti-consumer school of thought should pay more attention to what the black hats are saying – who, for convenience, we’ll call “Republicans.” These guys include a broad swath of personalities, from the FCC’s two Republican Commissioners, to the incumbents like Verizon that want no regulation and lots of “flexibility,” to my favorite right-wing curmudgeon, Marsha Blackburn, the Tennessee congresswoman who has succeded in getting a bill passed to call a halt to all that outrageous muni broadband that competes with Comcast, TWC et al. They have main three arguments, all of them pure sophistry, but great headline-grabbers. Continue reading

“Neutrality” ruckus prompts FCC inquiry on broadband and congestion

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“We can’t have a situation in which the corporate duopoly dictates the future of the Internet and that’s why I’m supporting what’s called net neutrality.” — Barack Obama, podcast, June 2006

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[June 19: So much for pruning – added 300 words in corrections and background.]

On Friday, June 13, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler made a short but dramatic statement headlined Broadband Consumers and Internet Congestion. Though barely 450 words long and presented outside any formal setting, Wheeler’s reaction to the public hue and cry over the reliability of retail broadband in the US marks an important step forward for end-user welfare. His announcement puts the lie to the vehement criticisms levelled at him about his betrayal of the Open Internet concept (the FCC’s term of art for net neutrality).

Many of his critics also assumed that the Wheeler FCC would never look into paid peering arrangements – well, they actually said they wouldn’t (“… the rules we propose today reflect the scope of the 2010 Open Internet Order, which applied to broadband provider conduct within its own network.” NPRM, fn 113 – pdf uploaded here). That is what Wheeler has now directed Commission staff to do (request “information from ISPs and content providers”).

While the American public are clearly confused by the net neutrality debate, and for good reason, many ISP subscribers have begun to question whether they’re getting the broadband they’re paying for – whatever the underlying business and technical issues may be. Excerpts from Wheeler’s statement follow (the full pdf is uploaded here):

“For some time now we have been talking about protecting Internet consumers. At the heart of this is whether Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that provide connectivity in the final mile to the home can advantage or disadvantage content providers, and therefore advantage or disadvantage consumers. … 

“Consumers must get what they pay for. As the consumer’s representative we need to know what is going on. I have therefore directed the Commission staff to obtain the information we need to understand precisely what is happening in order to understand whether consumers are being harmed. … 

“The bottom line is that consumers need to understand what is occurring when the Internet service they’ve paid for does not adequately deliver the content they desire, especially content they’ve also paid for. In this instance, it is about what happens where the ISP connects to the Internet. It’s important that we know – and that consumers know.” 

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Continue reading

Court vacates FCC’s Open Internet Order, echoing Klass vs Bell

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[Correction added on AT&T sponsored data]

It’s shaping up to be a tough year for network neutrailty.

verizon-faceIn its disposition of Verizon v FCC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled yesterday that the FCC’s Open Internet Order is mostly null and void. Not because of the substance of the debate – that end-users need to be protected from the incumbent ISPs – but because of a jurisdictional flaw. The case was brought by Verizon, which now that they’ve more or less won, is saying they actually support an open Internet. When you read the policy blog post in question (“Verizon reiterates its commitment to the open Internet“), you have to marvel at Verizon’s capacity for managing self-contradiction. Continue reading

Ben Klass asks CRTC to stop Bell’s deliquency on Mobile TV

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Detail from roof of Brighton train station (rotated) – Aug 2013

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Bell welcomes any competitor, but they should compete on a level playing field.” — George Cope, BCE/Bell Canada, August 2013

“I provide evidence [below] in support of the assertion that Bell gives itself undue preference. It does so by applying an application-specific economic Internet traffic management practice (ITMP) to its Mobile TV service, causing unreasonable disadvantage to competitors and harming consumer choice.” — Ben Klass, CRTC Part 1 Application, November 20, 2013 

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November 25: I’ve added a number of edits and corrections to the running text below. My thanks to Ben Klass, J-F Mezei and Juris Silkans for their helpful suggestions.

Nov.25 – update #2. A formal request has come in already asking the Commission to transform Ben’s application into a full-blown public proceeding that would include a review of ITMPs put in place by both Rogers and Vidéotron, which apparently have the same idea as Bell about what’s meant by a “level” playing field. The request is from PIAC, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. I’ve uploaded a zipped folder with both PIAC’s letter and Ben’s reply here.

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This post is divided into two main parts (which may not be obvious to the untrained eye). Down to but not including Key elements of Ben’s complaint, you’ll find 3 sections: a) discussion of Ben’s application in general terms; b) an analogy based on the metered taxi cab as a familiar way to illustrate why Bell can’t treat different kinds of traffic differently to give itself a commercial advantage over competitors; and c) a bemoaning of the sad truth that very few people can bring themselves to care about this wonkish stuff, mostly because it’s so freaking hard to understand.

The second half – Key elements of Ben’s complaint – looks at his filing from the perspective of four underlying regulatory concepts. I have a dual purpose here: to clarify some of the muddier aspects of this process; and to talk a little about some of the past history and how we got to this juncture. The four concepts are:

  • a Part 1 Application
  • a new media broadcasting undertaking (NMBU)
  • data (or bit) caps
  • Internet traffic management practices (ITMPs)

These are all mentioned on the first page of Ben’s document. If you don’t know what he means by an “application-specific economic Internet traffic management practice,” you may find a glossary helpful.

Ben Klass is back and this time he means it

ben-klass-nov21-3Last August, Ben grabbed some well-deserved attention with the open letter he addressed to Bell CEO George Cope. In his “I am Canadian” piece, Ben debunked point after absurd point in Cope’s post, which ran on the Bell site under the title “An open letter to all Canadians.” Cope was delivering another salvo in the incumbents’ wacky wireless war against the Harper government and its outrageous idea they should let Verizon enter our market to compete with the Big Three.

For all its merits, Ben’s open letter was an irritant Cope could afford to ignore with impunity (I don’t imagine folks in Bell’s C-suite have been working on their sense of irony since August; and funny how whenever an incumbent CEO insists on a level playing field, you can be darn sure he means exactly the opposite). But that was then, this is now, and Ben has turned up the heat on Bell, way up. Continue reading

CRTC’s annual report is here: the good, the bad, the weird (1)

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The Brighton Wheel, August 2013

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It’s always been a challenge to figure out who the CRTC is talking to in its annual Communications Monitoring Report (CMR). This year’s edition, released last week, shows some progress has been made on the goal of putting the consumer first.

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[Sept 30: some minor edits and corrections made]

What does the CMR tell us about its authors?

Blais pic(1)For anyone who cares to tackle well over 200 pages of really dense charts, tables and footnotes, with equally dense explanatory prose, the CMR can serve two very different purposes (this year it’s 262 pp: CRTC’s launch page is here). One is the obvious: use the data to better understand the trends in Canada’s legacy and digital media. The other is less obvious and to my mind a lot more interesting: use the details, the tone, the assumptions in these pages to gauge how the regulator is thinking about its changing role in the marketplace. Continue reading

The NSA and an escalating battle over Internet privacy

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Beach at Brighton, UK, August 2013

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“I would rather have a rectal examination on live TV by a fellow with cold hands than have a Facebook page.” — George Clooney, Sept 2009

“To the engineers, I say this: we built the Internet, and some of us have helped to subvert it. Now, those of us who love liberty have to fix it.” — Bruce Schneier, Sept 2013

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Update (Sept 9). More evidence of the damage to online privacy politicians can cause without any help from spooks or decryption… TorrentFreak is running a story about British PM David Cameron and his alarming online content filter. Mobile carriers in the UK must have the filter turned on by default to block content that may be considered “harmful” to children. As the story points out: “The filter mainly targets adult-oriented content, but one provider now says that VPN services also fall into this category as they allow kids to bypass age restrictions.” In other words, the use of a VPN service like WiTopia, which I describe at the end of this post, may turn out to be illegal. Without the anonymity provided by tools like VPNs (virtual private networks), the public cannot expect to have any reasonable measure of privacy on the Internet.

Update 2 (Sept 9). ISOC has issued a statement strongly condemning the US government’s attack on the Internet’s core encryption technologies. An excerpt:

“The Internet Society believes that global interoperability and openness of the Internet are pre-requisites for confidence in online interaction; they unlock the Internet as a forum for economic and social progress; and they are founded on basic assumptions of trust. We are deeply concerned that these principles are being eroded and that users’ legitimate expectations of online security are being treated with contempt. … Security is a collective responsibility that involves multiple stakeholders. In this regard, we call on:

  • Those involved in technology research and development: use the openness of standards processes like the IETF to challenge assumptions about security specifications.
  • Those who implement the technology and standards for Internet security: uphold that responsibility in your work, and be mindful of the damage caused by loss of trust.
  • Those who develop products and services that depend on a trusted Internet: secure your own services, and be intolerant of insecurity in the infrastructure on which you depend.”

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This summer, the Snowden NSA revelations greatly altered priorities in the battle for an otherwise enduring goal: keeping the Internet secure and open for use by us ordinary folk.

VerizonLogo1True, some things never change. Persistently the enemy of reason and fair play, Verizon will have its day in court on September 9, when it begins arguments before the D.C. Circuit as to why the FCC’s network neutrality rules should be torn up into little pieces, cremated and cast into the Chesapeake Bay. The carrier claims the FCC has no possible grounds for imposing such rules; is acting capriciously by trying to do so; and is threatening Verizon’s First Amendment rights into the bargain. As Harold Feld of Public Knowledge wrote in his policy blog:

“Just like Verizon FiOS decides whether or not to carry Al Jazeera America, and on what terms, Verizon argues it has the right to decide whether or not to go to AlJazeera.com, and on what terms.”

Abuse as a feature, privacy as a bug

fb-like-2Which brings us to Facebook and another unsettling story about risks to privacy. Facebook has once again given not just movie stars and world-renowned cryptographers like Bruce Schneier but a billion other people compelling reasons to worry about their privacy. Not that this is news. Abusing everyone’s privacy – in part by changing the abuse policy regularly – is a Facebook feature not a bug. This month it’s not even changing policy, just “clarifying” it. As the LA Times noted:

“The new language says users automatically give Facebook the right to use their information unless they specifically deny the company permission to do it. At the same time, Facebook made it more complicated to opt out.”

Continue reading