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Category Archives: net neutrality

CEA head Gary Shapiro on NSA, net neutrality

shapiroGary Shapiro is an opinionated individual. But then again, as the president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association – a powerful lobby group that represents more than 2,000 technology companies operating in the United States, including Samsung, Microsoft and Apple – he’s supposed to be.

Besides researching industry trends and reporting back on them to its members, the CEA also advocates their views to legislators and regulators. It’s a difficult job given the varying and sometimes conflicting viewpoints of its diverse membership.

Still, members are sometimes united on key policy issues that affect them all, which is something Shapiro speaks about handily. Chief among these concerns right now is the U.S. government’s ongoing abuse of surveillance technology, and its requirements of technology companies to supply information on their customers.

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The internet’s fate is being decided right now

"Rarrrr! Hulk want net neutrality!"

“Rarrrr! Hulk want net neutrality!” (Image courtesy Marvel)

There probably isn’t anything more exciting to watch right now for tech nerds than the situation regarding net neutrality that’s unfolding in both the United States and Canada. In the space of a week, it has gone from a fomenting revolt to a full-out war, especially down south.

Following last week’s letter from 150 technology companies, Federal Communications Commission chair Tom Wheeler backed down somewhat on his original proposal to allow internet providers to institute so-called paid prioritization of traffic, or the effective creation of a fast lane for online companies willing to pay extra.

Feeling the heat from big tech firms including Google, Amazon and Microsoft, not to mention some of his fellow commissioners, Wheeler instead suggested that the FCC might want to consider reclassifying internet provision so that it qualifies as a telecommunications service, which could then be subject to regulations.

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Net neutrality revolt kicks into high gear

FCC Chairman now appears to be alone in his quest to create an internet fast lane.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler now appears to be alone in his quest to create an internet fast lane.

For a while there, it looked like Netflix was on its own in fighting the Federal Communications Commission’s bone-headed and double-speaking effort at institutionalizing “net neutrality” rules, but on Wednesday the floodgates burst open. A raft of technology companies, venture capitalists and even FCC commissioners added their voices to the now-strong opposition chorus. Suddenly, it’s FCC chairman – and former cable industry lobbyist – Tom Wheeler who appears to stand alone.

In case you missed it, Wheeler set the internet on fire earlier this month when it emerged that he had a plan to institute a right for internet providers – cable and phone companies – to create a “fast lane” for online services and websites. In a blog post defending his proposal, he suggested such rules would prevent ISPs from blocking content or slowing it down, and that fast lanes would have to be negotiated at “commercially reasonable” rates.

No one seems to be buying that argument. On Wednesday, 150 technology companies – including giants such as Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft – sent Wheeler a letter decrying his ideas, saying they represent a “grave threat to the internet:”

Instead of permitting individualized bargaining and discrimination, the Commission’s rules should protect users and Internet companies on both fixed and mobile platforms against blocking, discrimination, and paid prioritization, and should make the market for Internet services more transparent. The rules should provide certainty to all market participants and keep the costs of regulation low. (Emphasis added)

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Posted by on May 8, 2014 in government, internet, net neutrality

 

With net neutrality dead, will Netflix go cable?

President Barack Obama and FCC head Tom Wheeler in happier times.

President Barack Obama and FCC head Tom Wheeler in happier times.

Everyone keeps waiting for HBO to “pull a Netflix,” where the channel would decouple itself from traditional television service providers and go online only. Given the nonsense that’s going on with net neutrality and regulators in the United States, at this point it’s more likely the reverse will happen. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Netflix give up on online and “pull an HBO,” whereby it becomes just another channel in an overpriced monthly TV package.

On Wednesday, news broke that the Federal Communications Commission is planning to introduce “pay-to-play” rules for internet companies, whereby cable and phone companies will be allowed to charge them extra for better connectivity. This would essentially enshrine the recent controversial Netflix-Comcast deal within actual rules. It was controversial because Comcast degraded Netflix’s quality to the point where the streaming company was forced to pony up. Comcast and other big ISPs have long complained about such services supposedly getting a “free ride” on their networks.

The news set the internet alight, with various voices proclaiming that FCC head Tom Wheeler – a former cable industry lobbyist who was recently appointed to the job by President Barack Obama – had just driven a stake through the heart of net neutrality. It is, of course, that ephemeral principle that all internet traffic should be treated more or less equally so that the guy sitting in his basement with an idea for a startup has the same chance at succeeding as a giant company like Netflix or Google does. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2014 in comcast, net neutrality, netflix

 

Netflix-Comcast a different kind of net neutrality

Comcast Reports Quarterly Earnings Rise 16 PercentEver since Netflix and Comcast announced their joint interconnection deal a few weeks ago, there has been no shortage of analysis on what it all means for the future of the internet. Opinions have ranged from the dire – such as an article on The Verge declaring that “the internet is fucked” – to the predictably apologetic, like the op-ed pieces that always come out of the neo-con American Enterprise Institute to support any big corporate deal.

Many commentators have suggested the agreement sounds the death knell for net neutrality, or the broad ideal that internet providers should not unduly discriminate against certain forms of traffic. The problem in this case has been that Comcast has been slowing down Netflix for some time, to the point where the service has been difficult if not impossible to use for some subscribers. The cable company has plenty of reasons to do so: not only does Netflix compete with its own video offerings, it also clogs up a lot of its network (it accounts for an estimated one-third of all internet traffic). That degradation effectively forced the streaming company into signing an interconnection deal directly with Comcast rather than going through third-party providers such as Cogent, which it has typically done in the past.

It’s understandable why the agreement provoked such negative reactions. With actual net neutrality rules in the United States in limbo if not dead, large network owners such as Comcast are effectively free to engage in whatever extortionate activities they want, which is exactly how this situation has been perceived; Netflix had no choice but to give in to its customers being held hostage. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2014 in comcast, net neutrality, netflix

 

Net neutrality is like a utility, except that it isn’t

FedEx jets: why the internet is nothing like the postal service.

FedEx jets: why the internet is nothing like the postal service.

Net neutrality has certainly taken a beating of late on both sides of the border. In the United States last week, a federal court effectively killed what few rules there were that prevented internet providers from discriminating between different types of traffic. That followed an announcement a few weeks ago by AT&T that it was introducing a “sponsored data” feature for smartphones that would allow websites and online service providers to pay for exempting their content from users’ monthly data caps.

In Canada, meanwhile, a version of that is ongoing with Bell offering its own mobile television at a rate that’s significantly discounted from regular online video. Canada has rules that enshrine net neutrality and they have indeed been invoked in a complaint about Bell’s service to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

In each of these cases, the very notion of net neutrality – or the idea that the traffic and content that flows across the internet should be free from unnecessary discrimination by network providers – will be sorely tested this year. On the downside for users, internet providers have now had several years to adjust to the principle and have gotten pretty good at figuring out ways around it, hence the increasing usage of data caps as a way to privilege certain services. On the plus side for advocates, the providers still haven’t been able to counter the principle itself, which has the advantage of being tied to such fundamental long-term concerns as innovation and competition. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2014 in bell, comcast, net neutrality

 

ESPN plan isn’t technically violating net neutrality

sportscenterA couple of weeks ago, I was dismayed to see the headlines about how ESPN is looking to strike a deal with U.S. cellphone companies to exempt its video services from data caps. According to the reports, the sports network wants cellphone users to watch more of its videos so it can make more advertising money, and it’s prepared to subsidize their usage to make it happen.

It was alarming news that hit the old net neutrality reflex, which was also evidently the case with many observers. Public Knowledge proclaimed such a deal to be a clear violation of net neutrality and urged the Federal Communications Commission to step in. Net neutrality has different definitions, but as the advocacy group puts it, at its core it is about:

…making sure that the company that connects you to the internet does not get to control what you do on the internet (if you ever forget that, just head on over to WhatIsNetNeutrality.org for a reminder). Imposing data caps on consumers and then allowing wealthy content holders to buy their way around them is a recipe for stagnation online. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on May 21, 2013 in net neutrality