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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Push to name donors in political ads hits FCC roadblock – By Mario Trujillo – 05/26/15 06:00 AM EDT

Getty Images

Getty Images

Congressional Democrats’ push to strengthen political ad disclosures in time for the 2016 elections appears dead for now after hitting a roadblock at the Federal Communications Commission.

Amid a divisive legal battle over new net neutrality rules and other pressing telecommunications issues at the FCC, Chairman Tom Wheeler suggested the commission has little appetite to take up a fix on its own.

“Maybe you noticed — we have a long list of difficult telecommunications related decisions that we are dealing with right now. And that will be our focus,” Wheeler said last week when asked if the commission would initiate new rules on its own.

Billions of dollars are expected pour into the 2016 election, and Democrats have pressed the FCC to update its rules to require large donors to be identified at the end of television ads purchased by super-PACs and other outside groups.

Lawmakers in both chambers have introduced bills to force the agency’s hand and Wheeler, a Democrat, noted he would “clearly follow” any mandate from Congress.

But the title of the House proposal — which overtly references GOP mega-donors Charles and David Koch — indicates that the party sees it as more of a messaging bill than anything else. And a failed vote on the legislation in a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee last week confirmed that the proposal would not be able to get passed Republican opposition.

“This isn’t the place for it. If you want to do campaign finance reform, there are other committees of jurisdiction,” said Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who leads the House subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

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Who can hate a Roomba? Astronomers, that’s who.

The robotic vacuums we all know and love ensure we don’t have to clean our own homes ourselves to get them spotless. (God forbid.) Now, the Roomba’s maker, iRobot, wants to do for lawn care what it did for vacuuming. According to filings with the FCC spotted by IEEE Spectrum, iRobot is designing a robotic mower—news that should elate lazy people the world over.

But one group is really, really unhappy about this boon to the slothful: Astronomers. Some of them are so upset, in fact, that their objections might put the kibosh on the whole thing. How could this be? In a scenario that sounds straight out of the Golden Age of sci-fi, it all comes down to robots versus telescopes, and how they all communicate.

The saga started in February, when iRobot filed a waiver request with the FCC seeking approval to use a portion of the radio spectrum to help guide its robomower. The problem with grass-cutting bots, according to iRobot’s filing, is the only way to get them to work is to dig a trench along the perimeter of a lawn and install a wire that creates the electronic fence needed to ensure the automatons don’t wander beyond the property line.

As a less arduous solution, iRobot proposes using stakes, driven into the ground, to act as beacons. The beacons will talk to the lawnbot, helping it map the area and stay within the designated boundaries. A typical user with a typical lawn (a quarter to a third of an acre) might need between four and nine beacons.

But the system requires special permission from the FCC due to its restrictions on fixed outdoor infrastructure. In a nutshell, the FCC doesn’t want people creating ad hoc networks of transmitters, which could interfere with existing authorized services like cellular and GPS systems. In its filings, iRobot says it should be exempt because it doesn’t set out to establish a broad communications network—its lawnbot networks would be tightly contained.

Astronomers say that’s not good enough. The frequency band proposed for the lawnbot (6240-6740 MHz) is the very same one several enormous radio telescopes operate on. Astronomers want the FCC to protect their share of the radio spectrum so their telescopes continue observing methanol, which abounds in regions where celestial bodies are forming.

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FCC Enacts Title II Net Neutrality Rules With Partisan Vote – By Tom Risen Feb. 26, 2015 | 2:21 p.m. EST

The fight over regulating the Internet is far from over, however.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler (C) holds hands with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, left, and Jessica Rosenworcel during an open hearing on Net Neutrality at the FCC headquarters February 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler holds hands with FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, left, and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel during a hearing on Thursday. The agency has voted in favor of new rules governing Internet traffic.

After nearly a year of intense debate about the future of the Internet, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 Thursday to approve net neutrality rules that aim to preserve competition online by treating all Internet traffic equally.

But Republicans and telecom companies still plan to fight the regulation in court and in Congress.

[READ: Republicans Defy Net Neutrality Ahead of FCC Vote]

The newly approved rules forbid Internet service providers from blocking or slowing the traffic of their rivals, and ban new fees for faster download speeds that would create “paid prioritization” or “fast lanes.” The rules will affect competition between certain companies, especially those reliant on fast download speeds like Skype and Netflix.

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: This Is How We Will Ensure Net Neutrality – BY TOM WHEELER 02.04.15 | 11:00 AM

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.  Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

After more than a decade of debate and a record-setting proceeding that attracted nearly 4 million public comments, the time to settle the Net Neutrality question has arrived. This week, I will circulate to the members of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) proposed new rules to preserve the internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression. This proposal is rooted in long-standing regulatory principles, marketplace experience, and public input received over the last several months.

Broadband network operators have an understandable motivation to manage their network to maximize their business interests. But their actions may not always be optimal for network users. The Congress gave the FCC broad authority to update its rules to reflect changes in technology and marketplace behavior in a way that protects consumers. Over the years, the Commission has used this authority to the public’s great benefit.

The internet wouldn’t have emerged as it did, for instance, if the FCC hadn’t mandated open access for network equipment in the late 1960s. Before then, AT&T prohibited anyone from attaching non-AT&T equipment to the network. The modems that enabled the internet were usable only because the FCC required the network to be open.

Companies such as AOL were able to grow in the early days of home computing because these modems gave them access to the open telephone network.

I personally learned the importance of open networks the hard way. In the mid-1980s I was president of a startup, NABU: The Home Computer Network. My company was using new technology to deliver high-speed data to home computers over cable television lines. Across town Steve Case was starting what became AOL. NABU was delivering service at the then-blazing speed of 1.5 megabits per second—hundreds of times faster than Case’s company. “We used to worry about you a lot,” Case told me years later.

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