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December 21, 2010

FCC Fail — Providing incentives for scarcity

There are many ways to boil down today’s upcoming FCC rejection of Net neutrality (which they did in the guise of supporting Net neutrality). Here’s one:

The end of Net neutrality means that those who provide access to the Internet — to our Internet, for it is ours, not theirs — have every economic incentive to keep access scarce. By not providing enough bandwidth, they can claim justification for charging users per bit (or per page, service, download, etc.), and justification for charging Net application/data providers for the right to cut ahead in line.

This is ironic — in the not-funny sense — since the access providers’ stated justification for opposing Net neutrality is because to do otherwise would discourage investment. But, why are they going to invest in providing more bits when they make more money by throttling access? (Competition? Sure, that’d be great. Let’s require them to rent out their lines. Oh, I forgot.) Abundance would turn access provision into a profitable commodity business, which is exactly what users want, and what would stimulate innovation and economic growth.

So, now that Net neutrality is going to be overturned, the access providers will make money by preventing access. Anyone want to bet that the U.S. is now going to climb the charts of average national broadband rates and of lowest average cost? Does anyone think that we haven’t just moved back by decades when we’ll have, say, gigabit access common across the country?

For shame, FCC.


[Later that day] The FCC has clarified some of what it means. For example, they are not going to allow access providers to charge companies for fast lane access. It seems that Commissioners Copps and Mignon nudged the regulations in the right direction. Thank you for that. (Also, see Harold Feld’s take.)

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December 13, 2010

FCC: Do Net Neutrality right

Brad Burnham, a well-known and thoughtful venture capitalist — I know him a bit, and like and respect him — has posted a letter to the FCC explaining why it ought to reject Chairman Genachowski’s compromised version of Net Neutrality (AKA “I can’t believe it’s not Net Neutrality”) in favor of something more clear and powerful.

Barbara van Schewick, an authority on Net Neutrality, has posted about a very specific example of the harm that would be done if the Chairman’s version becomes public policy: Zediva is a online DVD rental start-up that needs Net Neutrality to be viable. Zewdiva says in their own letter to the FCC:

By enabling users to watch new DVDs online, our service may be perceived to directly compete with the VideoLonLDemand service, PayPerView or other PayTV services offered by cable providers and, in some cases, the providers of fiber networks and wireless networks. At the same time, we depend on the broadband Internet access service offered by these providers to reach our users. In the absence of strong nonLdiscrimination rules and meaningful restrictions on what constitutes “reasonable network management”, these competitors will be able to exploit their control over the provision of broadband access to put us at a competitive disadvantage.

Here’s hoping that Chairman Genachowski can put on a pair of man pants and propose some real Net Neutrality (while maintaining his sense of humor).

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December 3, 2010

Go go, Commissioner Copps!

I was once privileged to have lunch with Michael Copps, the FCC commissioner. He was quiet, inquisitive, polite. A listener. But when he speaks, he is a fearless defender of the well-being of the interests of those his office is intended to advance.

Commissioner Copps has come out against Chairman Genachowski’s “Gosh, honey, I can’t believe it’s not Net Neutrality!” plan. Without Commissioner Copps’ vote, the Chairman does not have a deal.

Julius Genachowski should be thanking Michael Copps for giving him an opportunity to rescue his legacy.

(via Chris Bowers at the DailyKos.)

Also, a shout-out to Senator Al Franken for arguing for an open Internet as if our economy, our educational system, and our democracy depended on it … because they do.

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November 22, 2010

Copps shows gumption at the FCC

While FCC Chair Jules Genachowski has hesitated so long on Net Neutrality that he’s lost his legislative majority, explaining that he’s trying to balance the financial interests of providers who have already been heavily subsidized and given near monopolies, and who nevertheless have given us an unevenly distributed sub-par infrastructure, one of the other four commissioners is standing up without equivocation for an Internet equally open to every idea.

Commissioner Michael Copps calls for re-classifying the Internet as a telecommunications service, undoing the mischief of classifying it as an information service. “[Let’s] actually call an apple and apple!,” he says.

Commissioner Copps also excoriates the Google-Verizon proposal because it excludes wireless and because it would create “tiered Internets”: “‘Managed services’ is what they call this. ‘Gated communities for the Affluent’ is what I call them.”

You can read Commissioner Copps’ comments here (pdf). (via Slashdot) [Me on Googizon, and an interview with Rick Whitt, Google lawyer.]

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November 5, 2010

Identifying the Internet

I’ve signed onto a filing to the FCC that encourages it to continue to distinguish the Internet from the special services carriers want to offer. The Internet is only the Internet if it is open and does not prefer some applications, sites, or content.

David Reed brilliantly articulates his reasons for signing. Here is a chunk:

the Internet was created to solve a very specific design challenge – creating a way to allow all computer-mediated communication to interoperate in any way that made sense, no matter what type of computer or what medium of communications (even homing pigeons have been discussed as potential transport media). The Open Internet was designed as the one communications framework to rule them all. Very much as vocalizations evolved into a universal human communications framework, or ink on paper evolved into a universal repository for human knowledge. That’s what we tried to create when we designed the Internet protocols and the resulting thing we call the Internet. The Internet is not the fiber, not the copper, not the switches and not the cellular networks that bear its signals. It is universal, and in order to be universal, it must be open.

However, the FCC historically organizes itself around “services”, which are tightly bound to particular technologies. Satellite systems are not “radio” and telephony over radio is not the same service as telephony over wires. While this structure has been made to work, it cannot work for the Internet, because the Internet is the first communications framework defined deliberately without reference to a particular technological medium or low-level transport.

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September 12, 2010

Sascha Meinrath on why the FCC hasn’t acted

Sascha Meinrath [twitter:saschnameinrath] is director of the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative. He was also part of candidate Obama’s technology working group. I asked him why the FCC isn’t acting on Net Neutrality given that the President is so firmly committed to it.

Here’s an excellent article by Sam Gustin about Google, Verizon and the FCC with quite a bit of Sascha in it.

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September 8, 2010

Government APIs rock

The FCC has launched a site for developers that provides APIsso that anyone can create apps that draw on FCC data. Heres the first one they list: “Over 1 million user speed tests were generated from FCC Consumer Broadband Test. This API delivers data on the number of tests, average user download/upload speeds, and more.”

The White House also launched Challenge.gov, an Innocentive-like site where government agencies can pose challenges, offering prizes for the best solutions. There are almost 50 challenges posted so far.

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August 3, 2010

Tough love for Jules Genachowski

Harold Feld, who I consider to be one of the essential commenters on FCC issues, has written a “tough love” post, urging FCC Chair Jules Genachowski to take decisive action and lead the FCC. I agree. I think JG can do great things at the FCC. He should do them beginning now.

My hunch — and it’s nothing more than that — is that JG is trying to lead in the Obama-esque way: according each side its dignity and trying to find common ground. I support that when it has a possibility of working. I supported that even when it failed for Obama, because it was important to remind Americans that strong leadership doesn’t mean contemptuously disregarding those who disagree with you. But I also supported Obama when, after giving reconciliation a more than generous effort, he stood firm and acted.

It’s time for Genachowski to stand firm and act at the FCC. He has a vision for the Internet as a place where small voices speak and where new ideas get a fair chance. He understands the Internet as a potentially transformative force in culture, business, education, and democracy. He will not achieve his vision by compromising with those who view our Internet as their delivery channel for commercial content.

Jules Genachowski can have a transformative impact. It is far from too late for that. The Genachowski FCC can clear the way for the Internet — our Internet — to achieve its transformative possibilities for culture, business, education, democracy. I believe in Genachowski’s vision. I trust his intentions. I hope he will act.

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May 22, 2010

Understanding spectrum

Christian Sandvig explains spectrum and spectrum policy in this Radio Berkman interview.

Christian — who is both brilliant and a wonderfully generous colleague — textifies the main points here.

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May 7, 2010

Harold Feld’s FCC explainer

Harold Feld explains the FCC “third way” reclassification decision. He goes into a moderate amount of detail, but this is perhaps the takeaway:

…I call this a “legal reset.” Basically, Genachowski is saying “Back in 2002, when we moved cable modem service (and later other forms of broadband access) into the Title I/information services/ancillary authority box, we thought we would still have authority to protect consumers and do other necessary policy things. The Comcast court told us we were wrong. So now we’re going to move broadband access service into the Title II/telecom service box. But nothing substantive/policy changes. We’re just doing what the DC Circuit told us to do by articulating a different theory of authority.”

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