Tag Archives: net neutrality

Federal court says cable and telcos can pay the same rate for pole access

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Federal law does not require telephone companies to be treated differently from cable companies, when it comes to attaching cables to utility poles. That’s the ruling of a federal appeals court (h/t to Omar Masry at the City and County of San Francisco for the pointer). It rejected a challenge from electric utilities to a 2015 decision by the Federal Communications Commission that equalised the standard charge for utility pole access, and trimmed back an irrelevant distinction. The rate is now the same whether the full service telecommunications company doing the attaching is the descendant of a television service provider or an old school telco.

Before then, telcos paid higher rates, which meant more money for electric utilities that owned poles. But the FCC’s decision to classify broadband as a telecommunications service and put it in the same common carrier regulatory bucket as telephone service created a quandary. Since cable companies are also Internet service providers, could electric companies start charging them the higher rate, and maybe push up broadband access costs in the process?

There was another problem. Or maybe an opportunity, depending on your point of view. Some states, like California, have exercised an option allowed by federal law and set their own rates for utility pole attachments – they were already charging cable and telephone companies the same, lower rate. Which might have given them a competitive advantage over states that relied on the FCC rules.

The court said that the FCC had sufficient reason to make the change…

The FCC sought to eliminate the disparity between the Cable and Telecom Rates in order to avoid subjecting cable providers offering broadband service to the higher Telecom Rate, and to avoid rate disparity between states whose pole attachment rates are regulated by the FCC and those states that had elected to regulate pole attachment rates using the Cable Rate even for telecommunications providers…This approach represents a “reasonable policy” choice, and thus we defer to the FCC’s interpretation.

It’s a good solution, but it misses the central issue. Cable and telephone companies are in the same business: selling television, telephone and broadband service, and buying up content companies to fill the pipeline. There’s no rational reason anymore to treat them differently.

CPUC support for broadband common carrier rules stops short of the best reason

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The California Public Utilities Commission made the Monday deadline for commenting on the Trump administration’s move to scrap common carrier rules for broadband service. The filing more or less followed along with a rough draft approved by commissioners last week, and argues that reversing course would strengthen incumbent monopolies…

[Broadband service] providers must receive nondiscriminatory access to utility support structures, including poles and conduits, at just and reasonable rates, terms and conditions. Last year, the CPUC conducted a comprehensive review of the California telecommunications market, and analyzed the state of competition in various state sub-markets. The CPUC found that competitive bottlenecks and barriers to entry in the telecommunications network limit new network entrants and may raise prices for some telecommunications services above efficiently competitive levels. One particular bottleneck is access to utility poles, where the CPUC found that its safety mandate intersects, and must be reconciled with, its goal of a competitive market.

The CPUC comments also extoll other benefits of broadband’s common carrier status, including…

Which is all good as far as it goes. But the CPUC comments miss the fundamental reason broadband should be treated as a common carrier service: because it is.

The lack of competitive alternatives, as the CPUC correctly emphasises, is key. That’s only one of the elements in the mix, though.

The monopoly control wielded by what are effectively content companies with a telecoms sideline combined with the technical ability to analyse and shape user traffic in real time is unprecedented. Yet it would be instantly recognisable to the medieval jurists who conceived the principles of common carrier doctrine. Second order benefits are a fine thing, but broadband’s common carrier status is a first order necessity.

Net neutrality, San Bernardino FTTH endorsed by CPUC

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A $28 million grant for the Gigafy Phelan fiber to the home project in San Bernardino County and a statement opposing plans to roll back net neutrality rules were approved this morning by the California Public Utilities Commission. The exact comments to the FCC as it considers scrapping common carrier status for broadband service are still to be determined. After first trying to delay the filing, commission president Michael Picker opted for another round of editing before Monday’s deadline.

CPUC considers common carrier, net neutrality advice for FCC

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Once again, the California Public Utilities Commission is being asked to weigh in on whether or not broadband should be regulated as a common service. The current Federal Communications Commission is [asking for comments on its presumed plans to reverse the decision made during the Obama administration to classify broadband as a telecommunications service under “Title II” of federal communications law and regulate the way Internet service can be provided.

The recommendation in front of the CPUC is to come down on the side of keeping common carrier rules in effect

Staff recommends the Commission comment that in order for the existing Open Internet Rules to remain viable, the FCC would need to retain the “telecommunications services” classification for BIAS, providing Title II as a legal foundation for the rules. Staff further recommends that the CPUC submit comments raising concerns that the FCC may have difficulty explaining its proposal to reverse BIAS classification back to Title I as the 2015 order has only been in place a short time and the FCC has provided scant evidence that either the Title II classification or the Open Internet Rules are not working. At a minimum, the FCC should wait to develop a sufficient record in order to evaluate the full effects of Title II on investment.

The last time the CPUC considered whether to support common carrier regulation for broadband, it decided not to do so, following a messy and politically charged back-and-forth vote. Two of the three no votes are still on the commission: Carla Peterman, who initially voted in favor of common carrier status but was convinced to back down during a break when commissioners left the room, and current president Michael Picker, who offered the anodyne excuse that he wanted to study it further. As if net neutrality hadn’t been the most hotly debated telecoms policy issue for months beforehand.

Round 2 is scheduled for Thursday’s CPUC meeting.

Sometimes, telecoms lobbyists can’t help telling the truth

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When I see a headline like "Broadband speeds have soared under net neutrality rules, cable lobby says", I gotta click on it. So I did and landed on an article by Jon Brodkin on Ars Technica.

There’s no Damascene conversion involved, though. What Brodkin is highlighting is how cable lobbyists, such as the National Cable Television Association (or whatever they say the acronym stands for these days), brag about faster Internet speeds, while at the same time bemoaning the infrastructure investment apocalypse that must surely follow the FCC’s 2015 decision to regulate broadband as a common carrier service…

As we can see, the NCTA has flexible messaging and applies conflicting arguments to different situations. When the NCTA tells the Federal Communications Commission that it should roll back net neutrality regulations, the association says that the rules harm investment and raise prices on consumers. But when trying to convince the public that US broadband is a marvel of innovation and that we should all be grateful to cable companies, the NCTA says speeds are soaring and that customers are paying less.

So which is it? On an aggregate basis, broadband speeds in the U.S. are still climbing, although improvements are unevenly distributed, with affluent areas getting attention and poorer rural and inner city areas not. The NCTA’s latest puff piece is based on the the most recent State of the Internet figures published by Akamai, which is a reliable gauge of worldwide Internet performance and traffic. The exact magnitude and distribution of those improvements might be open to debate, but the general trend isn’t.

On the other hand, there’s little evidence that common carrier rules have slowed infrastructure investment. Forbes thinks it has, but Brodkin’s research shows that big incumbent telecoms companies, including AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Altice, are still putting out a happy, happy, joy, joy message to Wall Street.

Broadband service is getting better for some in the U.S., and the areas where infrastructure investment is lacking never had it in the first place. Common carrier rules don’t seem to be doing any great harm. Thank you NCTA for clearing that up.

Pai drives FCC with eyes on rear view mirror

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During a rural broadband road trip through the midwestern U.S., Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai shared time with a republican senator on a Milwaukee talk radio program (h/t to Phillip Dampier at Stop the Cap for tracking the interview down and getting the word out). Although he professed an open mind regarding the repeal of common carrier rules for broadband service – it’s under consideration at the FCC, so he has to say that – he dismissed net neutrality as a "slogan".

According to a story by Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica, Pai dismissed concerns raised by program host Gene Mueller about Internet service providers manipulating traffic for their own benefit…

"I have access to what I need when I need it, but with the removal of this Title II where we start treating the Internet as a commodity as opposed to a utility, that means the provider can then decide what I’m going to see more of," Mueller said. "If Spectrum [Charter] wants me to see Spectrum products first, then I’ll see that and other things will be slowed down."

Mueller described a "fear that this wide open pipe will become monetized for providers’ profit."

Pai said there’s no reason to worry. The scenario described by Mueller "is not the Internet we had prior to 2015 when we didn’t have these rules," he said.

The problem with that logic is that with or without FCC rules, the Internet we have now is not the Internet we had in 2015 or 2005 or 1995, and it never will be again. Pai is right to be concerned about "the government deciding how the internet is run", but he’s ignoring two key points: broadband service is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies, and those companies are bulking up on digital content ownership.

As acquisition-driven debt piles up and shareholder value is increasingly dependent on revenue generated from content, the economic imperative to maximise profit from it by using monopoly control over broadband access becomes irresistible. The concept of common carrier obligations has evolved over hundreds of years as a counterweight to exactly this problem. If Pai has a better idea, he needs to stop popping off sound bites and start articulating it now.

FCC votes to kill net neutrality, after a fair trial of course

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Common carrier rules for broadband service are on the way out. As expected, the Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to begin a rulemaking process that, in theory, is a neutral, technocratic assessment of current regulations that might lead to any outcome. But there’s never been any pretence that the result will be anything but a repeal of the FCC’s 2015 decision to bring broadband – wired and wireless – under the common carrier umbrella.

The agency’s official press release laid out the goals for the proceeding that was launched by yesterday’s approval of a notice of proposed rulemaking

First, the Notice proposes to reverse the FCC’s 2015 decision to impose heavy-handed Title II utility-style government regulation on Internet service providers (ISPs) and return to the longstanding, successful light- touch framework under Title I of the Communications Act.

Second, the Notice proposes to return to the Commission’s original classification of mobile broadband Internet access service as a private mobile service…

Third, the Notice proposes to eliminate the catch-all Internet conduct standard created by the Title II Order.

The Notice also seeks comment on whether the Commission should keep, modify, or eliminate the bright-line rules established by the Title II Order.

Title II is the section of telecommunications law that governs what companies that are classified as common carriers can do.

You’re likely to be disappointed if you’re hoping that the common carrier regime, and particularly the net neutrality rule, will be saved by another wave of public protest, as it was in 2014 when the democratic FCC chairman initially floated a plan that wasn’t all that much different from what’s on the table now. Republican commissioner Michael O’Rielly blew off the flood of comments that have already come in, saying “thankfully, our rulemaking process is not decided like a Dancing with the Stars contest, since counts of comments submitted have only so much value”.

Muni ISPs are as common a carrier as any other

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Buried within a half million comments about common carrier regulation of broadband service, in the midst of a system crash brought about, or not, by a John Oliver rant, is a letter from 19 municipal (to one degree or another) Internet service providers supporting the Federal Communications Commission’s current effort to roll those rules back.

In what must have been an epic, nay, herculean, speed reading session, FCC chair Ajit Pai came across those comments and felt compelled to issue a press release trumpeting the blindingly obvious conclusion that, hey, these guys agree with me so they must be pretty smart. I hope he lets his sidekick, Michael “what I am unwilling to do and will never support is allowing government-sponsored networks” O’Rielly, in on his eureka moment.

The muni ISPs make a couple of points in their letter: imposed service standards are a burden for small providers and munis don’t really need regulation since they’re directly answerable to elected officials.

Our customers have choices and can opt for another provider if we degrade their Internet experience. Moreover, because we are effectively owned by our customers and responsive to them politically, we make sure their interests are the primary drivers of our businesses. We always provide our customers with unfettered access to legal content on the Internet. We never block, throttle, or impair our customers’ traffic nor engage in paid prioritization. We have always said we would adhere to any such principles adopted by the Commission, as we have been doing since the Commission first articulated its Internet Policy principles in 2005. Yet, the Commission ignored the evidence, and imposed the straight-jacket of utility regulation, subjecting us to the constant threat that the Commission or some other party may bring an enforcement action based on the “unknown and unknowable” general conduct standard.

There is truth in their arguments. But there’s also a generous helping of disingenuousness. For example, several of the ISPs are affiliated with muni electric utilities. Being small or governed by a city council does not exempt electric utilities from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission standards or from complying with California Public Utilities Commission safety rules regarding jointly owned utility poles. And they know it.

Munis properly have latitude that privately owned utilities do not enjoy. City councils are rightly reckoned to be at least as good as the CPUC at setting electric rates and protecting consumer interests. But it isn’t a total exemption from oversight. Nor is simply being small. The federal and state rules for small rural telcos are different than those for AT&T and Frontier, but there are rules they must follow nevertheless.

Common carriers and other public utilities are subject to a complicated web of federal, state and local regulation. Dealing with it is just part of the job.

Did John Oliver take down the FCC, again?

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After another classic net neutrality rant, John Oliver is getting credit in some quarters for inspiring a flood of online comments that brought the Federal Communications Commission’s website to a grinding halt. 150,000 comments were filed in the first 36 hours after the broadcast, three times the number over the same period three years ago when Oliver issued his first net neutrality call-to-arms.

It didn’t long for the FCC’s comment system to crash, or for the agency to claim it was someone else’s fault

Beginning on Sunday night at midnight, our analysis reveals that the FCC was subject to multiple distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDos). These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC’s comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host. These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC.

Both random netizens and Washington, DC politicians questioned the FCC’s claim, and asked for some kind of proof.

The truth might lie somewhere in between. It now appears that a botnet was used to file tens of thousands of anti-net neutrality comments – the exact opposite of what Oliver was advocating. According to Gizmodo

Thousands of identical anti-net neutrality comments came flooding in. First noticed on Reddit and later reported by ZDNet and the Verge, more than 58,000 identical comments supporting Pai’s effort to repeal the net neutrality rules have been filed since the proceeding was opened…

Even more concerning, however, is that the names and addresses attached to those comments may not belong to whoever filed them. Both the Verge and ZDNet managed to reach a few of the supposed commenters, and found that they had no knowledge of their alleged comments.

Oliver’s campaign is on temporary hold now. Citing its procedures and rules, the FCC says it won’t formally accept comments until after it meets next week and, presumably, votes to begin the process of undoing its net neutrality decision, which defined broadband as a common carrier service

Broadband customers love the message, hate the messenger

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People in the U.S. love big shopping, food and consumer electronics brands, but are not high on utility, telecommunications and food delivery companies and banks. That’s one take-away from the spring 2017 edition of the list of “America’s most loved brands” by Morning Consult. What was published was only a partial list – intended to draw you in and sign you up for their service – but even so it offers some interesting insights into the way consumers view the companies and industries that compete for their affections.


Data from Morning Consult, Spring 2017 brand study.

Looking at the industry by industry data that Morning Consult published, the average “net favorability” score for telecoms companies was only 21%, ranking 25th out of 28 industry segments assessed. There was an interesting split between telephone and cable companies. Verizon and AT&T came out on top in the category, at 29% and 28% respectively, while Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications (soon to be unified under the single, Spectrum brand) managed only half that, scoring 14% and 12%. Comcast’s Xfinity brand fell in the middle, at 21%. I assume other telecoms companies were included in the survey, but that’s the extent of Morning Consult’s data freeview.

By contrast, online services companies did well. Amazon (76%) and Google (75%) were the highest rated brands of all, and YouTube, also an Alphabet (née Google) brand also made the top ten list at 71%. On the consumer electronics side, Sony also made the top ten, hitting 70% net favorability, with Microsoft coming in second – as a hardware company – at 66%. Apple’s rating wasn’t disclosed, which leads me to suspect that the published list was selected on the basis of teaser value rather than on objective league table standings. Apple is routinely one of the most highly rated brands in the world, and it would be a banner headline for Morning Consult if its data said anything different.

The affection gap between the companies that provide services over and for the Internet and the ones that connect us to it is striking. As many people hate cable and telcos as love online services and consumer electronics companies. It’s another way of saying we do not trust monopoly broadband companies, but we do have faith in the competitive product and service providers we access via those networks. That’s a gap that federal and state policy makers should heed as they weigh subsidy choices, common carrier rules and other major telecoms industry decisions.