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Telecommunications Policy

All articles with the "Telecommunications Policy" tag.

Published: Sat, 22 Oct 2016 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sat, 22 Oct 2016 22:46:03 -0400


Airbnb Sues To Defend Itself from City Regulations; Santa Monica Latest Target

Fri, 09 Sep 2016 20:06:00 -0400

Airbnb (along with another company in the same space, Homeaway in a separate suit) sued the city of Santa Monica last week in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The company argued that regulations aimed at its service of matching buyers and sellers of short term rentals via website and app violated its 1st, 4th, and 14th Amendment rights. (I reported on the first conviction under those laws against an AirBnb host in Santa Monica in August.) This is the third such suit filed by Airbnb against California cities since June; they've also sued San Francisco and Anaheim. Anaheim faces a similar suit in state court from aggreived short-term rental housing owners. Alison Schumer, a spokeswoman for Airbnb, told the Los Angeles Times that "Santa Monica's clumsily written law punishes hosts who depend on home sharing to make ends meet and travelers looking for low-cost accommodations near the beach. The city is unwilling to make necessary improvements to its draconian law, so while this isn't a step we wanted to take, it's the best way to protect our community of hosts and guests." The challenged laws completely bar rentals of whole apartments for fewer than 30 days, strongly hobbling the business model. It also imposes rules forcing Airbnb hosts to post business licenses to operate on their online listings and pay a 14 percent hotel tax to the city, and holds the website liable for hosts violations. Part of the suit argues that "The ordinance seeks to hold Airbnb liable for content created by third-party users, by punishing Airbnb for listings posted to its platform where those listings do not comply with city law. As such, the ordinance unquestionably treats online platforms such as Airbnb as the publisher or speaker of third-party content and is completely preempted by the [Communications Decency Act] CDA." The San Francisco suit is based on a similar appeal to the CDA. The suit also insists that the Stored Communication Act and the 4th Amendment are violated by Santa Monica, since the law forces "disclosure to the City of certain customer information without any legal process or pre-compliance review." Courthouse News Service reports that: Airbnb already has paid $20,000 in fines [to Santa Monica], KPCC radio reported in late July...In its 22-page lawsuit, Airbnb says it "has paid all of the citations it has received under protest," and says the city should enforce its laws against the hosts who violate them, not Airbnb. The San Francisco-based company says the regulations force it to pay criminal fines without any evidence of intentional wrongdoing. "The city has impermissibly created a strict-liability crime for publishing third-party advertisements for rentals that prove to be unlawful for one reason or another, even if the hosting platform has no knowledge of the violation," the complaint states. It claims the city law and enforcement of it violate constitutional guarantees of due process, and that the city's demand for information about its customers constitutes unconstitutional search and seizure. Both companies seek declaratory judgment that the ordinance is unconstitutional, and an injunction against its enforcement. Consumerist reports on some more aspects of the Santa Monica regulations that harass AirBnb, which by law: must not only collect and remit taxes to the city, they must regularly provide the city with a list of all their properties in Santa Monica, along with the name of the homeowner, the length of each stay, and the price paid for each rental. Violation of the ordinance could result in penalties of up to $500 and six months in prison. Since the city enacted the ordinance, Airbnb says it has received multiple notices from the city demanding the removal of "hundreds" of allegedly unlawful vacation rentals. The Times reports that the Anaheim suit is going to be abandoned by Airbnb since "Anaheim officials reviewed the law and agreed not to enforce the provision that would punish hosting sites" for illegal behavior by hosts pending a complete ban on short-term rentals that will go into effect in April 20[...]

Court Rules FCC Cannot Overrule State Laws Limiting City-Run Broadband

Thu, 11 Aug 2016 11:30:00 -0400

A federal appeals court panel has ruled this week that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) overstepped its powers by attempting to subvert and overrule state laws that forbid cities from developing and operating their own broadband networks and competing with private providers. This is a big deal in reining in an FCC that is attempting to intervene more and more in how Americans receive internet access, and it also represents a blow against a potential avenue for porkbarrel federal infrastructure spending in whatever projects the next president hopes to put into place (both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have each promised hundreds of billions of dollars in more federal spending in these areas). The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled unanimously (3-0) that the FCC did not have the authority to bypass state laws that restrict or forbid municipal development and operation of broadband. To be clear, though, this was a very narrow ruling. The court didn't rule that the FCC could never overrule these types of state laws. Rather, the ruling was that there was no federal authorizing legislation that specifically gave the FCC authority to do so. Congress could pass a law that would allow the federal government to preempt the state laws that preempt city involvement in broadband operations. But it hasn't done so, and the FCC's attempts to bend the rules to make it happen anyway were smacked down. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler complained about the outcome and ignored the legal issues that drove it: Wheeler criticized the decision that "appears to halt the promise of jobs, investment and opportunity that community broadband has provided in Tennessee and North Carolina." He said since 2015, "over 50 communities have taken steps to build their own bridges across the digital divide. The efforts of communities wanting better broadband should not be thwarted by the political power of those who, by protecting their monopoly, have failed to deliver acceptable service at an acceptable price." Anybody who thinks that municipal broadband provides "acceptable service at an acceptable price" should read Kevin Glass' Reason piece from 2015 about what disasters and money pits government-operated broadband programs actually are. Far from competing with monopolies, many of them are proposed as revenue generators at the public's expense. Chattanooga, Tennessee's broadband program is typically invoked as a success story (one of the lawsuits in this case involved the city trying to expand its program beyond its territorial boundaries, forbidden by state law). But as Glass noted, the reason the city was able to avoid going into debt building their broadband infrastructure was due to a huge infusion of federal stimulus spending: What goes unmentioned is the cost. Chattanooga didn't build the network cheaply, nor did they even pay for it themselves. No, it took $111 million in federal tax dollars to get the network off the ground. This was doled out to Chattanooga as a part of President Obama's stimulus program. The success that Chattanooga has had in putting federal tax money to work was actually the impetus for the FCC's unilateral, unprecedented overturn of state-level municipal broadband laws; the Chattanooga EPB wants to bring its service beyond the lines of its current authority. We can see the folly in using Chattanooga as a model for how other municipal broadband projects could work. Not every city can use the federal government to extract money from taxpayers in other cities and states to pay for their government broadband projects. The money has to come from somewhere; the feds can't redistribute hundreds of millions to every city in the country, and the cost for these networks in larger cities would be much, much higher. A proposed network in Seattle, for example, has been projected to cost up to $660 million. And so we see exactly why the FCC needs to try to bypass or expunge state laws that limit operations. Chattanooga's "success" in building a city-run broadband network came at our expense. It [...]

How Privatization and Competition Freed the Web and Made the Modern World Possible

Sat, 11 Jun 2016 07:55:00 -0400

How the Internet Became Commercial: Innovation, Privatization, and the Birth of a New Network, by Shane Greenstein, Princeton University Press, 488 pages, $35  In 1991, the internet was one data communications protocol among many competitors. It had taken hold in a collection of research and education institutions serving less than 2 percent of the population. A small, government-funded backbone that tried to exclude all commercial use held its participating networks together. Twenty-five years later, the internet protocol is the lingua franca of the global digital economy. Nearly 4 billion people worldwide depend on it. It is the platform for the business giants of the 21st century—Google, Apple, Facebook, Ali Baba—and the site of monumental battles over regulation and governance. An entire digital ecosystem has grown up around the internet as it evolved from a government-sponsored research community to a commercial economy. Dozens of books, academic papers, and magazine articles describe different aspects of that change. What we've long needed is a comprehensive history that synthesizes all those elements into a single narrative. How the Internet Became Commercial, a new book by the Harvard economist Shane Greenstein, is an imperfect but noteworthy attempt to fill that gap. Greenstein asks: How did economic forces, government policies, and prevailing norms and institutions interact to encourage or discourage the decentralized innovation that we have come to associate with the internet economy? He devotes most of his attention to the economic part of this triad, with institutional analysis coming in a distant third. The narrative begins with the privatization of the National Science Foundation (NSF) backbone—the larger network connecting all the local and regional networks—from 1992 to 1995. This opened up what had been a fairly closed network for education and research institutions to commercial use, and it replaced a single government backbone contractor with multiple competing private connectivity providers. We see the emergence of private internet service providers (ISPs) and an unregulated, decentralized market for interconnection among them. We also see the importance of dial-up Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes) as entrants driving competition in the ISP market. Making the jump from BBS to ISP was relatively easy in terms of the capital investment and expertise required. As demand for internet access grew, what had been a small, localized BBS market for computer nerds exchanging files and messages became a mass market for web access. There is a useful, if stylistically labored, comparison of the early internet boom to the California gold rush. Greenstein is particularly good on the emergence of the World Wide Web and the commercialization of the web browser, including the early browser war between Netscape and Microsoft. Developed in research institutes while internet use was still primarily noncommercial, the web protocols for linking documents and other resources on the network, coupled with the browser's graphical user interface, pushed computer networking into mass adoption from 1992 to 1995. As internet content and applications increased and became richer, Greenstein shows the deepening of capital investment in the telecommunications infrastructure due to user demand for faster upload and download speeds. Dial-up modems went from 2.4 to 56 kilobits per second, and from there to broadband cable modems. Equally important, established firms such as IBM and brick-and-mortar enterprises adapted to the internet, which facilitated organizational efficiencies through more extensive access to relevant information about supply chains, work teams, accounting, and so on. An illuminating chapter is devoted to Google's origins in an NSF-funded research project at Stanford, and to the powerful connections between search and advertising that were subsequently forged. The book also explores the rise of wireless internet access in the early 2000s. The period of anal[...]

Bill Named After Murdered Girl Fails House Vote. Thank Goodness.

Wed, 25 May 2016 11:25:00 -0400

(image) The Kelsey Smith Act was named after an 18-year-old woman who was abducted from a Target parking lot and killed. For the last four years, Smith's family has been backing a bill to force telecommunications companies to hand over data about the whereabouts of a cellphone at the time of a call to law enforcement in emergency situations. Seems like this sort of thing should sail right though Congress, right? After all, we've got: 

Tragic story about violence done to a young white woman: check!

Grieving family on display at the Capitol: check!

Bill named after the victim: check!

Increased powers that law enforcement has been demanding for years anyway: check!

Then, a surprising twist: The Kelsey Smith Act failed on the floor of the House this week with a vote of 229-158 (it needed two-third of the vote to pass, because it was considered "under suspension of the rules"). Smith's family was in the gallery, as The Huffington Post's Matt Fuller noted yesterday, adding a particularly embarrassing emotional layer to proceedings.

Thank goodness. It was a bad bill and it deserved to be voted down.

If you're thinking that I'm an insensitive jerk right now, congrats: You've been successfully manipulated by lawmakers and law enforcement who want to expand their power under cover of human tragedy. 

People who backed this bill are surely well-intentioned, but here's the thing: The new powers granted to law enforcement in the bill would almost certainly have wound up being used primarily to track down everyday criminals, drug dealers, and, heck, probably people who say mean things about the size of Donald Trump's appendages—not just in rare emergency abduction scenarios. What's more, if the law had already been in place when Kelsey was abducted, it almost certainly would NOT have helped find her before she was killed.

Current law already allows telecom providers to share info with police in emergencies if the user has given permission or if law enforcement clears a few existing bureaucratic and judicial hurdles to prove to the company that an emergency is indeed underway, as the R Street Institute has noted. This bill would have taken a bigger dent out of the Fourth Amendment by removing even those minimal barriers—which are designed to protect users' privacy—and leaving the definition of emergency up to law enforcement, as the ACLU noted earlier this year.

The lawmakers who voted against this bill did the right thing. If there's anyone who should be ashamed about how this played out, it's the guys and gals who trotted out grieving family members to score political points.

Handy rule of thumb: Bills named after victims (or those with cutesy acronyms) should raise red flags; they're more likely than usual to be classic examples of the legislative sub-variant of the "hard cases making bad law" principle. 

President Obama Wants a Back Door on Your Phone. But Not on His.

Sat, 12 Mar 2016 10:30:00 -0500

In yesterday's South by Southwest keynote address, President Obama took a firm stand against strong encryption. Standing before an audience of over two thousand technology enthusiasts, Obama explained why the government needs back door access to all personal communication devices.

If it was technologically possible to make an impenetrable device where there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we disrupt a terrorist plot? How do we even do a simple thing like tax enforcement? If government can’t get in, then everyone’s walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket. There has to be some concession to get into that information somewhere.

Obama didn’t specifically discuss Apple’s case with the FBI, though the inference is clear. The president is not content with unlocking the individual phones of suspected criminals. He's asking for specific security protections to be permanently removed from all electronic devices. Because terrorists, child pornographers, and tax dodgers exist, no private citizen should have the right to secure communications.


Buried inside the President’s appeals to fear is a principle that’s widely understood by security professionals: A back door for the government is, in practice, indistinguishable from a security flaw that makes communication devices vulnerable for everyone.

As Alex Abdo of the ACLU put it, “If the FBI can force Apple to hack into its customers’ devices, then so too can every repressive regime in the rest of the world.”

The sentiment was echoed by Edward Snowden, who has called Apple's legal battles with the FBI, "the most important tech case in a decade." In a recent interview with Reason TV, Snowden characterized the issue in stark terms. “It’s a binary choice: Either all of us have security or none of us have security.” 

Watch Snowden's extended comments on Apple vs. the FBI below, starting at the 0:53 minute mark.

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In the coming months, Obama’s hypothetical concerns may become a lot less speculative. Apple is widely believed to be making an impenetrable iPhone, possibly for sale within the coming year, which could render recent legal wrangling moot. 

Paradoxically, Obama also used his keynote address to encourage citizens to use technology to reclaim American democracy. “We systematically make it harder for our citizens to vote," he said. "It is much easier to order pizza or a trip than it is for you to exercise the single most important task in democracy."

In theory, voting online is long overdue. But at the very least, a digital election would seem to require the very kind of secure, encrypted communication that the president wants to abolish.

Bonus irony: President Obama still uses a Blackberry because he's not allowed to use the latest technology... for security reasons.

What Cell Phones Reveal About the Failures of Government-Run Telecommunications

Tue, 01 Mar 2016 07:00:00 -0500

A colleague of mine recently alerted me to the following quote from Charles Moore's book Margaret Thatcher: At Her Zenith. As Thatcher's official biographer remembered, "In 1981, the present author bought his first house. It had no telephone and he wished to install one, but was told by [British Telecom] that this would take six months because of a 'shortage of numbers.' The only way to speed this up was for his employer, the editor of The Daily Telegraph, to have a word with the chairman of the company, Sir George Jefferson. The device was installed in ten days. This was a classic example of how a nationalized industry would respond to string-pulling, but not to the ordinary customer's needs."

The British Telecommunications, as it was then known, was notorious for its slow and shabby service, and Lady Thatcher privatized it in 1984. At the time of privatization, Great Britain had 36 fixed telephone lines per 100 people. The United States had 47.

Of course, these are first world problems. Almost all African countries had state-owned and state-run telecommunications monopolies until recently. Some, including Kenya and Zambia, still retain a monopoly on the provision of landline services. No wonder, therefore, that the number of fixed telephone lines in Africa peaked in 2009 at 4 lines per 100 people. In Tanzania, there is just one landline per 100 people. The vast majority of Africans, in other words, never had reliable means of calling a doctor or a loved one.

The rise of the cell phone changed all that. In 2014, 84 percent of Africans had a cell phone. In addition to massively improved communications, cell phones enabled Africans to side-step another problem plaguing people in poor countries—limited banking opportunities (especially in the far-flung rural areas). Users of cell phone services, like Kenya's M-Pesa, can deposit, withdraw and transfer money, and pay for goods and services, without ever having to visit a bank or access a bank account on a computer.

The private sector has also been instrumental to mitigating the negative effects of African governments' failure to provide their people with adequate education and drinking water. For more data on communications and other indicators of human well-being, please visit


The FCC Might Have Just Killed Polling as We Know It—and That's OK

Tue, 23 Jun 2015 16:45:00 -0400

Nobody likes getting robo-called. But in an effort to protect Americans from the deluge of unwanted advertising and political recordings they receive, pollsters fear the federal government may have just dealt a fatal blow to the survey research industry as we know it. Per a story from The Des Moines Register: The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday on a slate of increased restrictions on telemarketers who use robo-calls and auto-dialing. ... Among the new rules, the FCC said phone companies can start providing call-blocking technology to their customers without violating federal laws.  FCC officials have said robo-calls are a top generator of complaints to the agency. Last year, the FCC said it received more than 215,000 complaints about unwanted calls. The move was no surprise. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced in May that new rules were on the way. But what he called "another win for consumers" a number of prominent pollsters saw as "an existential threat," Politico's Steven Shepard reported at the time. FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver reacted with frustration, writing that "the FCC probably ought to go back to policing 'wardrobe malfunctions' and not making pollsters' jobs any harder." The source of the conflict is the difference between a robo-call and an auto-dial. The first, which anyone who's ever spent time in a swing state during an election year is all too familiar with, simply plays a recorded message when someone answers a call. The second is an integral part of how modern telephone polling works. Via last week's HuffPost Pollster newsletter, auto-dialing happens when "a computer system dials pre-loaded phone numbers and waits until a live-person picks up the phone and says 'hello' before routing the call to a live interviewer." The survey is still administered by a human, but rather than having to manually type in each respondent's phone number, one at a time, then wait while it rings to see whether anyone will even answer, this system makes trying to reach hundreds or thousands of people—fewer than one-in-ten of whom will end up being interviewed—a whole lot more efficient. If the FCC's rule change forces pollsters to hand-dial every single number, it will take significantly more man-hours (and therefore cost significantly more money) to conduct even basic surveys. This will lead to fewer polls overall—and as Silver points out, fewer polls means less information about the population's views on various issues of national importance. Here's the thing: Contrary to the way this vote is being described in the press, the FCC isn't actually imposing new regulations on pollsters. What it's doing is clarifying that telephone service providers are in fact allowed to use robo-call- and auto-dialer-blocking technologies if subscribers ask for them. From an FCC press release: In a package of declaratory rulings, the Commission affirmed consumers’ rights to control the calls they receive. As part of this package, the Commission also made clear that telephone companies face no legal barriers to allowing consumers to choose to use robocall-blocking technology. In other words, the ruling empowers consumers to make use of new "market-based solutions" intended to help them screen out calls—including most (though not all) calls that originate from an auto-dialer if that's what they want. There's no doubt this rule, if people take advantage of it, is bad news for pollsters. But the real problem the industry faces is not government giving people permission to use the commercial products of their choosing. Ultimately, the problem is that people can't be bothered to take polls. Given the option to screen out numbers they don't know, a growing subset of Americans are already doing just that. People aren't willing to give up even a small amount of their time for the "greater good" of making public opin[...]

ISPs Challenge FCC Net Neutrality Rules as “Arbitrary, Capricious, and An Abuse of Discretion"

Tue, 24 Mar 2015 12:06:00 -0400

(image) The Federal Communications Commission’s new Internet rules aren’t even a month old, and they’re already being challenged in court—multiple courts, to be exact. 

A consortium of major Internet service providers, through the USTelecom Association, which includes AT&T and Verizon, formally submitted a legal complaint in the District of Columbia yesterday. The complaint states that the FCC’s recent order, which reclassifies broadband Internet service as a Title II telecommunications service, making it akin to a utility, is “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion…” and that it “violates federal law, including, but not limited to, the Consitution, the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and FCC regulations promulgated thereunder.”

Another suit was filed by a small Texas ISP in a New Orleans court. Both suits were first noted by The Washington Post.

The legal challenges were all but inevitable as soon as the FCC decided to pursue reclassification, which potentially subjects ISPs to much stricter regulatory oversight. The FCC has been nosing around the possibility of reclassification for years, and critics have been warning the entire time that if the agency went that route, a drawn out legal battle would be unavoidable. The FCC made its choice, and now a multi-year, multi-front courtroom saga awaits.

And the thing is, the FCC might lose—again. The agency’s last two attempts to institute net neutrality also wound up in court, and both were eventually thrown out. It’s not all clear that the agency’s rules have more solid legal grounding this time.

Indeed, as Berin Szoka of TechFreedom points out, the FCC’s refusal to formally issue notice of new rules late last year when Chairman Wheeler changed directions and began considering reclassification is a vulnerability. Because of that decision, the rules that the FCC voted on last month were never really debated publicly; the agency had spent a year taking public comments on a different proposal, and then altered its approach at the last minute. That alone makes it legally dicey.

Anyway, this is likely just the first salvo in the Great Telecom Legal War. According to Ars Technica, more lawsuits are expected from trade groups for cable and wireless service companies. This is an all hands on deck fight for the telecom industry, with the majority of the major players taking major steps to fight the FCC’s rules.

The FCC’s New Internet Rules Put the FCC in Charge of the Internet

Thu, 12 Mar 2015 13:31:00 -0400

It’s been two weeks since the Federal Communications Commission voted to overhaul the way broadband Interner service is regulated, changing it from a Title I information service to a Title II telecommunications service—essentially making it a utility, like the phone system—in order to enforce net neutrality rules. And yet only today is the 300-page order, drawn up by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and supported by the commission’s two Democratic members, available for public viewing. This was perhaps the most consequential shift in Internet policy in nearly two decades, and it was put in place without full public access. And yet even though the rules are now available for all to see, it remains somewhat unclear how exactly they will work in practice. As The New York Times notes today, the FCC is “set to decide what is acceptable on a case-by-case basis. The regulations include a subjective catchall provision, requiring ‘just and reasonable’ conduct.” What counts as ‘just and reasonable’ will, naturally, be up to the whims of the FCC. In some ways, this is the worst part of the agency’s net neutrality push: It’s not even that it puts in place bad rules; it’s that it installs potentially strict but ultimately vague rules, and leaves the FCC as the final arbiter of what is and isn’t acceptable, with little to constrain its decisions. The FCC will have some guidelines, of course, but Wheeler’s book-length bureaucratic proposal will surely provide legal ammunition for whatever creative interpretation the agency settles on (or desires) at any given time. Wheeler’s description of how this will play out is flawed but also instructive. “We don’t really know. We don’t know where things go next,” he said, according to The New York Times. “We have created a playing field where there are known rules, and the F.C.C. will sit there as a referee and will throw the flag.” On the contrary, under the standard set by the order, the FCC isn’t enforcing known rules; it is roaming the field making the rules up on the spot. Imagine a game in which the referee was authorized to throw a flag for “unjust” or “unreasonable” conduct any time players attempted a new strategy or innovative style of play. Players might have some general sense of what would trigger a ref’s particular sensibility, but wouldn’t ever know for sure. As a result, you’d expect two things to happen: Players would deploy new moves more cautiously, and teams would spend more time pressuring the refs to use their wide discretion to allow certain types of plays—probably while arguing that their opponents’ signature plays were out of bounds. This is more or less what to expect in the wake of the FCC’s rules: ISPs will probably invest and innovate more cautiously, knowing that the FCC has veto power over their decisions. And armies of expensive telecom lawyers will spend their days arguing about what, exactly, constitutes “just and reasonable” in a wide variety of circumstances. As telecom analyst Roger Entner told the Times, “Telecom lawyers in Washington popped the corks on the champagne,” when the rules were passed last month. “It will be at a least a hundred million in billable hours for them. This will go on for a while.” Critics sometimes describe net neutrality as a government takeover of the Internet. This is in most ways an exaggeration; the Net will remain for the most part privately operated, with competing though heavily regulated firms continuing to own and operate the infrastructure. But though this line is an exaggeration, it has a grain of truth, in that the FCC has now inserted itself in a potentially prominent into the decision-making of these private Internet service providers. ISPs will now need the FCC’s permission, at least tacitly, to innovate and to invest, and they will [...]

The Other Dumb Thing the FCC is Doing: New Rural Call Completion Rules

Tue, 10 Mar 2015 12:30:00 -0400

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"If every call was killing somebody that didn't go through, what would you do? Well, you wouldn't do what the FCC asked because the killing would go on," says telecom activist and architect Daniel Berninger.

When the Federal Communications Commission passed the Rural Call Completion (RCC) order in 2013, they hoped to prevent telephone companies from delaying or dropping expensive long-distance calls to rural areas by relying on customer-driven complaints to lead investigations.

However since rural phone customers rarely take complaints to the FCC, the agency orders all telephone companies to submit quarterly reports of completed calls to find dropped calls: and therein lies the problem. "There isn't enough information in the data for them to find problems," says Bernginger. "No one is evaluating exactly what [the FCC's] contribution is; their existence is justified by this theory that government would be useful here."

The Other Dumb Thing the FCC is Doing: New Rural Call Completion Rules is the latest video from Reason TV.

Watch above or click on the link below for video, full text, supporting links, downloadable versions, and more Reason TV clips.

The Other Dumb Thing the FCC is Doing: New Rural Call Completion Rules

Tue, 10 Mar 2015 12:00:00 -0400

"If every call was killing somebody that didn't go through, what would you do? Well, you wouldn't do what the FCC asked because the killing would go on," says telecom activist and architect Daniel Berninger.

When the Federal Communications Commission passed the Rural Call Completion (RCC) order in 2013, they hoped to prevent telephone companies from delaying or dropping expensive long-distance calls to rural areas by relying on customer-driven complaints to lead investigations.

However since rural phone customers rarely take complaints to the FCC, the agency orders all telephone companies to submit quarterly reports of completed calls to find dropped calls: and therein lies the problem. "There isn't enough information in the data for them to find problems," says Bernginger. "No one is evaluating exactly what [the FCC's] contribution is; their existence is justified by this theory that government would be useful here."

"Rural call completion is not really rural call completion, it's call completion in general," Berninger explains. Rural customers don't need the FCC incentivizing telephone companies to not hamper their customers' service. "Our sense of reliability of that device is essential in terms of us buying that service. It's in the incentive of all the carriers to make sure call completion is high as it can be."

Reason TV's Nick Gillespie sat down with Berninger to discuss the FCC, the problems with the new Rural Call Completion rules, as well as Berninger's nonprofit, Voice Communication Exchange Committee, which seeks a transition to all-IP networks.

About 10 minutes.

Camera by Joshua Swain and Robert Mariani. Edited by Mariani.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube channel to get automatic notifications when new material goes live.

Netflix May Already Regret Its Support for the FCC’s New Net Neutrality Rules

Thu, 05 Mar 2015 15:05:00 -0500

Over at Wired, Geoffrey Manne, the Executive Director of the International Center for Law and Economics, has one of the very best critical takes on the Federal Communications Commission’s decision last week to overhaul the way broadband Internet is regulated in order to enforce net neutrality rules. Manne makes a couple points that are worth repeating. The first is that the new regulations give the agency license to go far beyond what supporters of the Title II/net neutrality regime have said is necessary—and, in doing so, may actually inhibit more valuable and effective consumer protection regulations from the Federal Trade Commission:  You were sold a bill of goods when activists told you net neutrality was all about protecting “the next Facebook” from evil ISPs. Think about it: If you’re “the next Facebook,” who do you think is more worried about you? Your ISP, or Facebook itself? If the problem is between Facebook and its potential challengers, hamstringing ISPs is an awfully roundabout way of dealing with it. Especially because we already have a regulatory apparatus to deal with issues related to competition: antitrust laws. But consider this irony: Now that ISPs are regulated under Title II as common carriers, the Federal Trade Commission can’t enforce its consumer protection laws against them anymore. That doesn’t mean there won’t be antitrust enforcement, but we did just hobble our most significant and experienced consumer protection authority. That seems like a mistake if we’re enacting rules that purport to protect consumers. This may not be exactly how it all plays out, but it’s not a bad bet. We don’t know for sure, of course, in part because we haven’t even seen the full FCC order yet; indeed, according to an agency statement earlier this week, it hasn’t even been finalized yet. But with rules as broad, sweeping, and untested as what’s been described so far, you can pretty much always be sure of two things: that over time, the regulatory agency in charge will claim additional authority—especially as leadership and agendas change—and that there will be a variety of unintended consequences. That’s what Manne is getting at here. In a similar vein, Manne notes that the expansiveness of the new rules make them a prime target for corporate rent-seeking. In fact, the rules are already the product of rent-seeking campaigns on behalf of the big Internet content companies that supported them: Even staunch net neutrality supporters like EFF [the Electronic Frontier Foundation] worry about the breadth of the FCC’s new “general conduct” standard. Couple that with language that invites complaints and class action lawsuits, and suddenly a regulation claimed to ensure “just and reasonable” conduct becomes a rent-seeking free-for-all. But surely ISPs have it in for Netflix, right? Actually, Comcast is the only ISP (out of the literally thousands that are now regulated under Title II) that competes with Netflix. And the evidence shows that the problems allegedly arising from that competition were caused by Netflix, not Comcast. Did we really just enact 300 pages of legally questionable, enormously costly, transformative rules just to help Netflix in a trivial commercial spat? This is worth dwelling on for a moment, in part because Netflix was one of the most visible and widely covered supporters of the FCC net neutrality push that led to last week’s decision. The company “[relished] its role as the corporate leader in the fight for net neutrality,” National Journal reported last September—and in doing so, backed a position that “would protect its profits” while “earning goodwill from Web activists and liberals.” Netflix, in other w[...]

The FCC Just Voted to Regulate the Internet Like a Utility

Thu, 26 Feb 2015 13:22:00 -0500

In a 3-2 vote today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to radically overhaul the way Internet service is regulated. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and the commission’s two Democratic commissioners voted to move forward with the rules. The agency’s two GOP-appointed commissioners opposed them. Under the new rules, broadband providers, long classified by the agency as Title I information services, will now be regulated as Title II telecommunications services—essentially making them public utilities, like the phone system. The move is designed to allow the FCC to implement strict net neutrality rules limiting how much control Internet service providers (ISPs) can exert over what passes over their networks. Today’s vote is the result of a lengthy process begun by Chairman Wheeler roughly a year ago, and that process came in the wake of two previous efforts in which the agency’s net neutrality rules were struck down in court. But the end result of the vote was largely set near the end of last year, when President Obama released a statement calling for the agency to implement the strongest possible net neutrality rules. Obama’s statement, itself somewhat atypical in its attempt to publicly influence an independent regulatory agency, followed a long, secret effort inside the White House, in which administration staffers acted, as The Wall Street Journal reported, “like a parallel version of the FCC.” Wheeler had been considering less restrictive rules, but changed his course after the president’s statement. Today’s vote will mean that Wheeler’s proposal, which has been kept secret up until now, will finally be released to the public. And it likely means that the FCC will push forward with clarifying and implementing the as-of-yet-unknown-details of Wheeler’s proposal. In part that's because much remains uncertain about exactly how the proposal will be implemented. Wheeler's plan promises to use the FCC's forebearance authority to hold off on some of the more onerous parts of Title II regulation, like rate regulation, but this amounts to little more than an unenforceable promise not to regulate ISPs quite as strictly as Title II allows. There will also be fights over which taxes and fees may apply to Internet service under the new regulatory regime. Proponents of the Title II switch say that Internet service won't be subject to new fees under the proposal, but in today's meeting, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican appointee who opposes the Wheeler plan, warned that new taxes and fees on Internet service were sure to come. It is also virtually certain to result in another court battle—one that the FCC may well lose, as Berin Szoka of Tech Freedom, which opposes Wheeler’s plan, has argued. At minimum, the proposal will be challenged and, over time, probably redefined. In the meantime, though, it means that the FCC has taken an unprecedented and fear-reaching step in order to make good on one of the Obama administration’s long-running political priorities—a step that solves no significant existing problem, but is instead designed largely to fend off hypothetical harms, and give the agency far more power over the Internet in the process. As Commissioner Pai told ReasonTV, the move is a “solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.” It is a solution, however, that is now in place, and is sure to create some problems of its own.  Watch ReasonTV's full interview with Commissioner Ajit Pai below: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0">[...]

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai: Net Neutrality is a "Solution That Won't Work to a Problem That Doesn't Exist"

Wed, 25 Feb 2015 11:04:00 -0500

Net Neutrality is "a solution that won't work to a problem that doesn't exist," says Ajit Pai, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Pai is an oustpoken opponent of expanding government control of the internet, including FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's plan to regulate Internet Service Providers (ISPs) under the same Title II rules that are used to govern telephone-service providers as public utilities. Under current FCC regulations, ISPs are considered providers of "information services" and subject to essentially no federal regulation. He is also sharply critical of President Barack Obama's very public push to influence policy at the FCC, which is technically an independent agency. Last year, it was widely believed that Wheeler, a former head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, would not push for Title II. Pai calls the president's actions—which included "creating a YouTube video of with very specific prescriptions as to what this agency should do"—unprecedented in his experience. Coupled with the fact that "the agency suddenly chang[ed]course from where it was to mimic the president’s plan," says Pai, "suggests that the independence of the agency has been compromised to some extent." The FCC is scheduled to vote Thursday, February 26 on Wheeler's plan. Pai explains his opposition to Title II reclassifcation to Reason's Nick Gillespie. Citing independent studies of American competitiveness and booming investment in telecommunications infrastructure compared to Europe, Pai argues that consumers are thriving and the market is doing its job. Regulating the internet like a utility company, says Pai, will threaten the kind of innovation we've taken for granted over the past 20 years. "Do you trust the federal government to make the Internet ecosystem more vibrant than it is today?" Pai asks. "Can you think of any regulated utility like the electric company or water company that is as innovative as the Internet?" Runs about 30 minutes. Produced by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Krainin. Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to ReasonTV's YouTube Channel to receive notification when new material goes live. INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT: This is a rush transcript and should be compared to video and audio for accuracy. reason:  Recently, the FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said that he’s going to move forward with the FCC regulating the Internet under Title II regulations. That’ll change the regulatory structure from that of an information service to a telecom. What is the most important thing that people need to know about that switch? Pai: I think the most important thing that people need to know is that this is a solution that won’t work to a problem that simply doesn’t exist. Nowhere in the 332-page document that I’ve received will anyone find the FCC detailing any kind of systemic harm to consumers, and it seems to me that should be the predicate for certainly any kind of preemptive regulation—some kind of systemic problem that requires an industry-wide solution. That simply isn’t here. reason:  So you’re simply saying the Internet is not broken. Pai: I don’t think it is. I think by and large, people are able to access the lawful content of their choice. While competition isn’t where we want it to be—we can always have more choices, better speeds, lower prices, etc.—nonetheless, if you look at the metrics compared to, say, Europe, which has a utility-style regulatory approach, I think we’re going pretty well. reason:  The FCC recently redefined broadband, but using standards from the last roundup of where we were in terms of the number and variety of Internet conn[...]

FCC Commissioners Request Delay of Title II Vote: “Future of the Entire Internet At Stake”

Tue, 24 Feb 2015 14:35:00 -0500

Warning that “the future of the entire Internet [is] at stake,” two FCC commissioners have requested that the chairman publicly release the specifics of a proposed regulatory overhaul and delay an upcoming vote by 30 days in order to give the public a chance to assess the details. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to vote Thursday on a 332 page proposal put forth by Chairman Tom Wheeler that would shift the regulation of broadband Internet service from a Title I information service to a more heavily regulated Title II telecommunications service. The outlines of the proposal have been described by Wheeler, but, as is common at the FCC, the full proposal has not been released. The agency’s two Republican-appointed commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, both of whom oppose the proposal, which is backed by Wheeler and the agency’s two commissioners appointed by Democrats, issued a public plea for Wheeler to “immediately release the 332 page Internet regulation plan publicly and allow the American people a reasonable period of not less than 30 days to carefully study it.” Wheeler seems intent on moving forward with the vote anyway. “We cannot afford to delay finally adopting enforceable rules to protect consumers & innovators,” he posted on Twitter yesterday. The “FCC received more than 4 million comments” on the proposal during the last year, he said. “It’s time to act.” Pai argues that the regulations up for a vote this week are vastly different than those that were considered last year. Wheeler revamped his proposal to include the shift to the more heavy-handed Title II regulation after President Obama urged the commission to adopt strict rules late last year. Along with Sen. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), Pai also argues that there’s precedent for making the rules public, and a history of calling for extended public review of FCC policy changes. As USA Today reports: There is precedence for the FCC chairman to make rules public, the commissioners and Rep. Chaffetz said. In 2007, then-chairman Kevin Martin released to the public new media ownership rules and the entire FCC testified in a House hearing prior to the final vote in December. A senator who supported the FCC's postponement back then, Chaffetz notes, was then-senator Barack Obama. "He specifically noted while a certain proposal 'may pass the muster of a federal court, Congress and the public have the right to review any specific proposal and decide whether or not it constitutes sound policy. And the commission has the responsibility to defend any new proposal in public discourse and debate,'" Chaffetz said citing the original letter sent by Sen. Obama to Martin. At this point, it seems all but certain that the proposal will remain under lock and key until after the vote. We'll have to pass it to find out what's in it.  Watch ReasonTV's interview with Daniel Berninger about net neutrality and Title II after the jump: width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0">[...]