FCC to Outline Plan to Roll Back Net-Neutrality Rules – John D. McKinnon Nov. 20, 2017 7:00 a.m. ET

Move could fundamentally reshape internet economy and consumers’ online experience

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said hard-and-fast rules can stifle investment and innovation in a fast-moving industry.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said hard-and-fast rules can stifle investment and innovation in a fast-moving industry. Photo: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg News


John D. McKinnon

WASHINGTON—Federal regulators this week are expected to unveil their plans for reversing Obama-era rules that require internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally, a move that could fundamentally reshape the internet economy and consumers’ online experience.

The changes, expected to be adopted at the Federal Communications Commission meeting in mid-December, would open the door to a wide range of new opportunities for internet providers, such as forming alliances with content firms to serve up their webpages or video at higher speeds and quality than those without such deals.

Such “paid prioritization” was explicitly blocked under the 2015 rules, which required internet service providers to keep all corners of the internet equally accessible to consumers, and limited the providers’ ability to favor content, including their own.

The new rules, according to industry officials, are expected to thoroughly dismantle the “open internet” plan adopted by the Obama administration’s FCC. Advocates of the current approach, including consumer groups and big internet companies, argued that such regulation is needed to curb the power of the broadband providers to affect the online environment through their control over the pipes.

Proponents of reversing them, including current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, say hard-and-fast rules can stifle investment and innovation in a fast-moving industry. Internet service providers worried the Obama administration rules could open the door to eventual rate regulation and other heavy-handed oversight. They also viewed the rules as a solution in search of a problem, given the internet’s relative openness historically.

Mr. Pai began the process of reversing the 2015 rules earlier this year.

If the rollback survives likely legal challenges, it has the potential to reorder the online business environment. It could give internet providers such as AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp., Charter Communications Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. more flexibility to use bundles of services and creative pricing to make their favored content more attractive to consumers.

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The Senate Prepares to Send Internet Privacy Down a Black Hole – KLINT FINLEY 03.22.17 5:32 PM

Today, while you’re not watching, the Senate could gut rules protecting your internet privacy.

Last year the Federal Communications Commission passed a set of strict privacy regulations that ban broadband internet providers from selling your browsing data without your consent. Now, while most Americans are watching Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination hearing and Obamacare repeal intrigue, senators could vote as early as today on a resolution to not only reverse the FCC’s action but block the agency from passing similar rules in the future. (The resolution would still need to pass the House and get President Trump’s signature to take effect.)

Even if Republicans spike the Obama-era FCC’s protections, most of which have not taken effect yet, the agency will still have some authority to protect your privacy. But little would stop internet providers from selling your personal data to ad buyers and anyone else hoping to turn a profit by targeting your browsing habits.

Republican lawmakers argue that the FCC’s rules confuse customers because they only cover internet providers and not websites like Google and Facebook. But repealing the them without a new privacy framework in place could create a enforcement vacuum that isn’t good for anyone.

For most of the internet’s existence, protecting users’ privacy has fallen to the Federal Trade Commission. But in 2015, the FCC reclassified internet providers as utility-style “common carriers,” which an appeals court decided the FCC has the sole authority to regulate. With that newfound power, the agency passed stronger rules than the ones enforced by the FTC. If they take effect, broadband providers could not sell your browsing data unless you explicitly opt in. The telco industry hated the order, claiming that it gave the likes of Google and Facebook an unfair advantage. After all, those web giants make billions selling your browsing data by default.

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So the FCC Head Says the Media Isn’t the Enemy. In 2017, That’s News – KLINT FINLEY 03.20.17 6:59 PM.

Christopher Gregory/The New York Times/Redux

Earlier this month, senators asked Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai whether he agreed with President Trump that the media is the enemy of the American people. Pai demurred, saying he didn’t want to wade into political debates.

Thirteen days later, he finally answered the question. No, he doesn’t think the media is the enemy. “A free media is vital to our democracy,” he wrote in a letter to Senate Democrats who continued to press the issue.

It’s through the FCC that the federal government could perhaps do the most damage to the media.

It’s a remarkable thing for any civil servant to have to say. But in the Trump era, it needed saying. Trump once said he has a “running war with the media.” He has promised to “open up” libel laws to expose journalists to more lawsuits (something he probably can’t constitutionally do). He threatened to sue the New York Times for reporting allegations of sexual harassment leveled against him. He has barred news organizations that have run unflattering stories about him from press briefings. Meanwhile, he has expanded access for outlets that cover him favorably.

But it’s through the FCC that the federal government could perhaps do the most damage to the media.

The agency could, in theory, deny broadcasting licenses for organizations that are critical of Trump or fast-track applications for groups that are less critical. And it could change media ownership rules to favor the White House’s preferred media brands. The public needs reassurance, in unequivocal terms, that the FCC chair wouldn’t be a party to such shenanigans.

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The FCC Has a Plan to Free Us From Our Cable Boxes – KLINT FINLEY 09.08.16. 7:08 PM


If you do cable TV, you’re a renter. You need that set-top-box that connects the cable to your television, and chances are, your cable company won’t let you buy the thing. You’re forced to rent it, paying that monthly fee for years on end, shelling out far more than that box is really worth. But that might change.

Today, the Federal Communications Commission unveiled a proposal that would force pay-TV providers to offer apps that let you bypass set-top-boxes altogether. Instead of plugging a set-top-box into your TV, you could just use cable through a device of your choice, like a Roku, an Xbox, or a Google Chromecast stick. Plus, you could watch on all sorts of other devices, like phones and tablets. If the new proposal passes, you say goodbye to that monthly fee forever.

It may seem a little late to do something about this particular problem, given that analysts say more people are now cutting the pay TV cord. But there are still tens of millions of people paying for the tube, and the average subscriber pays $231 a year for the things, according to the Federal Communications Commission, and cost the country about $20 billion annually.

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Regulators Recommend Approval of Charter-Time Warner Cable Deal – By SHALINI RAMACHANDRAN and JOHN D. MCKINNON Updated April 25, 2016 9:29 p.m. ET

Tough restrictions would be imposed on new company to promote online video competition

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said Monday that  several conditions tied to the approval of the Charter Communications-Time Warner Cable merger would mitigate threats to online video competition posed by the deal.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said Monday that several conditions tied to the approval of the Charter Communications-Time Warner Cable merger would mitigate threats to online video competition posed by the deal. — Photo: Associated Press

Federal regulators are poised to approve Charter Communications Inc. ’s $55 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable Inc., but they will force the merged company to live up to stringent obligations that don’t apply to its bigger rivals.

Under a deal with the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission, Charter agreed to abandon for seven years several common industry practices that the government feared could threaten the growth of rival online video providers such as Netflix Inc. and Hulu. The company agreed not to impose data caps or charge broadband Internet customers based on data usage, practices that have riled customers.

Charter will also be required to build out its broadband access to two million homes, which would compel it to compete against other cable companies in some markets, according to a person familiar with the matter. That would be a significant move for an industry that has divvied itself up geographically.

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Emails pull back the curtain on struggle over Internet rules – By Mario Trujillo – 01/18/16 05:17 PM EST

Getty Images

Getty Images

Newly released emails reveal the internal wrangling between Congress and the Federal Communications Commission in 2014 over the agency’s controversial Internet regulations.

The emails, made public for the first time this week, show FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler complaining that the agency’s “own words are being used against us” in meetings with congressional allies.

At other points, the documents show FCC aides persuading lawmakers to refrain from publicly calling for a delay in voting on the rules.

The 162-pages of unredacted FCC emails were released by the House Oversight Committee this week as part of a broader report criticizing the federal government’s open records process. The emails were only a random sample of about 10 percent of all the documents that the House committee received, which the FCC previously gave to journalists in heavily redacted form.

While there does not appear to be any bombshells, the emails provide a rare inside look at the agency and the pressure it was under as it developed controversial rules to ensure all Internet traffic is treated equally.

Many of the emails span from April and May of 2014, when the FCC was considering scaled back rules, as opposed to the sweeping ones that were eventually issued. At the time, the FCC was voting on proposed rules that net neutrality advocates said would allow Internet “fast lanes” for those willing to pay.

Months later, the agency pivoted to a stricter regulatory scheme, which opponents trace back to pressure from the White House and others. The net neutrality rules are now being challenged in court.

Eventually in a divided vote last year, the agency voted to reclassify Internet service as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act. The increased authority, which critics compared to utility-style regulations, was meant to give the FCC more power to prevent Internet service providers from prioritizing some Internet traffic over others.

Here are eight moments highlighting how the agency made it to that decision.

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FCC Auction Promises Bonanza for Small TV Broadcasters – By THOMAS GRYTA Jan. 5, 2016 9:16 p.m. ET

As momentum tilts toward the Internet, airwaves go on the block for billions in boon to tiny TV stations like those in Lima, Ohio

WLIO meteorologist Kyle Adams prepares for a broadcast in Lima, Ohio. The station’s nightly news also airs on all three local major-network affiliates.

WLIO meteorologist Kyle Adams prepares for a broadcast in Lima, Ohio. The station’s nightly news also airs on all three local major-network affiliates. PHOTO: J.D.POOLEY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

LIMA, Ohio—Workers accidentally struck oil here in 1885, putting this tiny city on the map as the world’s biggest oil field—a valuable patch that John D. Rockefeller later controlled.

Now Lima, (pronounced lye-ma), a rust belt town of 38,000 people, has another highly sought-after resource. This time, the riches are above ground and the deep-pocketed buyer is the U.S. government.

The Federal Communications Commission recently set opening prices for an auction of airwaves it gave away to many local TV stations across the country more than half a century ago. And by next week, broadcasters have to decide if they want to join the auction that will let wireless carriers like AT&T Inc. and Verizon CommunicationsInc. acquire those station rights for tens of billions of dollars.

The process gives small TV stations a chance to cash out just as their business faces challenges from online video, wireless services and shifting audience behavior. After multiple delays, the process is expected to begin in March. Nearly 2,000 stations across the country could join the auction to sell their broadcasting licenses.

In giant media markets like New York City and Los Angeles, the bidding will start out high. One station broadcasting in Manhattan, an affiliate of Telemundo, has an opening bid of $900 million. But smaller cities may hit the jackpot, too. In Lima, the first—and maximum—offer for its most-watched station is about $110 million.

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2015 Is the Year the FCC Finally Grew a Spine – KLINT FINLEY 12.19.15. 7:00 AM

You could be forgiven for thinking that the Federal Communications Commission was a rubber stamp machine for the telecommunications industry. Until this year that is.

Despite the Obama administration’s promise to crack down on monopolies and mega-mergers, the FCC approved Comcast’s purchase of NBCUniversal in 2011. Four months later Meredith Attwell Baker, the FCC commissioner who handled the case for the US government, landed a job at Comcast as the senior vice president of government affairs. That same year former FCC chairman Michael Powell became a cable industry lobbyist.

The FCC’s revolving door policy made it hard to take seriously. Then a curious thing happened. The FCC grew a spine.

Then, in 2013, President Obama appointed Tom Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist himself, to the position of FCC chairman. This revolving door policy made it hard to take the FCC seriously. So when Wheeler and company proposed new rules that would have allowed Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to give preferential treatment to certain traffic as long as it was “commercially reasonable,” few people were surprised and most of us expected network neutrality to be toast. Then a curious thing happened. The FCC grew a spine.

Net Neutrality for Real

The FCC took its first stab at enforcing network neutrality in 2010, back before Wheeler took the chair. But an appeals court struck the rules down in January 2014, arguing that because Internet service providers were legally classified as “information services” instead of so-called Title II common carriers, like traditional voice telephone services, the FCC didn’t have the authority to enforce those rules.

That led to a spineless proposal in March of 2014 that would have allowed “commercial reasonable” prioritization. Wheeler insisted that the rules meant commercially reasonable for consumers, not for Internet providers. But to outsiders it looked as if Wheeler, the former lobbyist, was content to let network neutrality die now that he was in charge. There was an explosion of opposition to the proposal, including protests outside the FCC’s office, massive Internet petitions and, perhaps most importantly, a 14-minute rant by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver.

Suddenly, what was once an arcane telecommunications police debate was international news.

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2015 Is the Year the FCC Finally Grew a Spine


The first net neutrality complaint looks doomed to fail – by Jeff John Roberts JUNE 23, 2015, 7:32 PM EDT

Net neutrality has been the law of the land for only 10 days, but already a web-cam company is knocking on the FCC’s door to complain that Time Warner Cable is breaking the rules. The case could, in theory, lead the agency to flex new powers over an internet provider – but the smart money will bet that the FCC throws the web-cam firm out on its ear.

The complaint, which came to light on Monday, comes via Commercial Network Services (CNS), a San Diego company that live-streams views of southern California. It asks the FCC to do something about the fact that Time Warner Cable TWX -0.37% wants to charge it for delivering its web traffic. Because CNS won’t pay, its live stream is choppy and slow.

“Aha!” some might say, “Isn’t this what net neutrality is supposed to prevent?”

Not quite. The dispute here doesn’t involve the so-called “last mile” where ISP’s like Time Warner Cable bring broadband to consumers – and where the FCC has made it clear that all web traffic must be treated the same. Instead, the CNS case involves “peering” or “interconnection,” which refers to a type of connection that occur at a deeper layer of the internet, and takes place between content providers (like Netflix or CNS) and the ISPs.

In these cases, the FCC only requires for arrangements between ISP’s and the websites providing content to be reasonable. So is Time Warner Cable being unreasonable? Well, that’s for the FCC to decide but, according to a gaggle of people who live and breathe this stuff, the ISP is not obliged to serve CNS for free, and its complaint will fail.



AT&T just got hit with a $100 million fine after slowing down its ‘unlimited’ data – By Brian Fung June 2015

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at Jun 18, 2015 6.44

AT&T is being charged a $100 million fine after slowing down its “unlimited” data. Here’s what that means for its users. (Alice Li/The Washington Post)

The Federal Communications Commission slapped AT&T with a $100 million fine Wednesday, accusing the country’s second-largest cellular carrier of improperly slowing down Internet speeds for customers who had signed up for “unlimited” data plans.

The FCC found that when customers used up a certain amount of data watching movies or browsing the Web, AT&T “throttled” their Internet speeds so that they were much slower than normal. Millions of AT&T customers were affected by the practice, according to the FCC.

The fine, which AT&T says it will fight, is the largest ever levied by the agency.

AT&T implemented the practice in 2011, prompting thousands of customers to complain to the FCC, according to an agency statement.

By not properly disclosing the policy to consumers who thought they were getting “unlimited” data, the company violated the FCC’s rules on corporate transparency, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.

“Consumers deserve to get what they pay for,”  Wheeler said. “Broadband providers must be upfront and transparent about the services they provide. The FCC will not stand idly by while consumers are deceived by misleading marketing materials and insufficient disclosure.”

Many of AT&T’s unlimited customers have 4G LTE service, which typically provides mobile Internet speeds of more than 30 megabits per second. That’s roughly 60 times faster than the speeds experienced when AT&T throttled subscribers, who were slowed to speeds equivalent to dial-up, according to a senior FCC official.

But consumers are unlikely to receive any money from the fine, which will go instead to the U.S. Treasury, said the agency official.

AT&T disputed the charges. “The FCC has specifically identified this practice as a legitimate and reasonable way to manage network resources for the benefit of all customers, and has known for years that all of the major carriers use it,” the company said in a statement.

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