Thursday, January 16, 2014

Netting the Net

Next big concern coming up for Mr or Ms Average internet user in the USA (most of us these days) will be the earnest hope that net neutrality doesn't disappear in accordance with the ruling this week of a federal appeals court. The court threw out the FCC's Net Neutrality Rules. There's already lots of information and explanation available on the importance of this to the average consumer, a good article by Maggie Reardon at CNET on the topic is HERE.

The appeals court ruling isn't about internet access as such, but about the ability of internet service providers to take control of access to content, and it's all about the money, as usual, of course. Until now government (FCC - Federal Communications Commission) regulation ensured that anyone who paid a service provider for internet connection could access every website on the net, and every service run via the internet, such as Skype. This week's court ruling has cancelled this regulation.

Internet service providers are now free to limit, or charge extra for, access to certain websites and services. This will work in much the same way that Cable TV access works. Internet service providers will, eventually no doubt, begin to offer "bundles" of various levels of access, demanding more and more payment for wider access to sites outside a consumer's "bundle". Access to Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Skype for instance could become akin to accessing HBO, Showtime etc. on TV.

Internet service providers are now in control. Business owners and content providers as well as viewers of net content could also find themselves having to pay internet service providers. Comcast, Verizon etc. can now demand payment by businesses or other content providers to obtain access to their customers. Until now there has been 100% access by all to all - but no more. It's beginning to sound like some kind of mob protection racket! Anyway, it's certain we shall all be paying more for less before long.

Is there any hope of getting the recent court decision overturned? The issue could end up in the Supreme Court, unless the FCC is able to construct a new case based on different existing laws or arguments.

From what I've read, if the FCC were able to declare internet service providers to be common carriers, that might provide a solution. Common carriage applies to the means of supply of utilities such as electricity, water, gas, telephone lines. In those cases the pipes, cables, lines or whatever are a common means of supply, and while owned by private companies or corporations, those companies or corporations cannot limit or slow down supply once the consumer has paid the required fee for access. However, it appears that the Supreme Court has, in 2005, put up a likely barrier to that possibility in its Brand X decision that broadband services should not be classified as telecommunications services, which means that broadband providers' infrastructure is not considered a public right of way like phone lines or water pipes, and should not be regulated as such. Perhaps shrewd lawyers will be able to find a loophole. Let us hope so!

Apart from the commercial aspect of these eventualities, there's a political aspect too. It could become harder, more expensive, or even impossible to access certain political blogs and websites. I'll leave the rest of that pre-dystopic vision to a reader's imagination.

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mike said...

Yes, this sucks big! But, the public is becoming used to things sucking big in many other arenas, too. The FCC should reclassify internet access as a "Title 2 Telecommunications Service" and the push is on to do just that.

An oddity to this challenge to potentially redefine the internet as telecommunications service (utility service), is that the laws governing utilities such as a land-line telephone are quite different from current internet laws. The NSA is exempt from certain legal aspects of data collecting of internet and cell phone users and is more restricted with those legalities when collecting data of land-line telephone users.

A current example I just read is concerning splitting of signals. Internet and cell phone providers are allowed to split the connection (convenient for the NSA), whereas the land-line signal is not legally allowed to be split.

"By reclassifying the connectivity component as a telecommunications service, the FCC would be operating squarely within the bounds of its statutory authority to impose anti-blocking and non-discrimination obligations on broadband providers. The FCC has the authority to modify its previous classification, as long as it gives a good reason for doing so, which it can do, if only it has the will. This is an opportunity for the FCC’s new Chairman, Tom Wheeler, to make good on President Obama’s past promises to support net neutrality."

mike (again) said...

BTW - If the corporations don't completely ream us, the thieves on the internet will. I received an email this morning...didn't open it, because I thought it was a bit suspicious (right click and "inspect element" or "view message source" allows for the email to be read without opening, which is what I did). email said to read a message left for me on my credit card's website. I opened my link in my bookmarks for that site, logged-on and realized I'd been had once I saw the robber's page. The log-in page looked perfectly like it should have looked.

I called my credit card company...they confirmed no emails had been sent to me. Requested that I change passwords, which I did. No robber's activity on my account at that point.

I'm running a virus scan now...not complete, but there is a warning that "malicious or potentially unwanted software has been detected". I'm hopeful that I can fix this and be on with it. I've been at this for several hours today.

I run a scan once a week, so I have no idea where this came from. I didn't open the email or use any links other than my old link to my credit card's website. Baffling.

Watch-out, Twilight...they are out to get us one way or another. I keep reading and seeing on the news about all of the credit card theft of late.

Twilight said...

mike ~ Thanks for the link. although there's quite a bit of coverage on this topic today, I'd have expected more. No "trending" on Twitter as far as I can see, and less general coverage than reports of Oscar nominations! As you mention, it seems people are so used to being trampled on, they can't be bothered to care any more - if they ever did.

I've signed a petition, but not sure how much good online petitions can do - it costs nothing and can't do any harm.

From Michael Winship's article at common Dreams today

Wheeler, after the court’s decision was announced, said, “We will consider all available options, including those for appeal, to ensure that these networks on which the Internet depends continue to provide a free and open platform for innovation and expression, and operate in the interest of all Americans.”

But there will be congressional opposition. And the FCC has a long, sad track record of spinning pro-industry positions to make them sound good and good for you. It’s too soon to tell on which side Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the mobile phone and cable TV industries, ultimately will come down. Which means that once again, as has been the case so many times since this fight began, people have to stand up and be heard.

You can start by contacting the FCC chairman’s office and demanding that he and his colleagues stand resolute and forthright in favor of net neutrality, an Internet open to all.

Send an e-mail at the FCC’s website. Or tweet @TomWheelerFCC.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Oh - my sincere sympathies! I've been on the wrong end of malware, viruses, phishing and credit card theft before, and tearing out my hair because of it. Things have been better for me since I bought Norton 360 software (after husband nagged me into doing so). It's more expensive than the software I'd been using (several kinds over time) but the only one strong enough for today's threats it seems - especially for someone like me who scoots around sites a lot looking for info, illustrations, etc etc.

I hope you manage to get completely rid of any intruders, and stay free of them.

It's a jungle out there alright!

ex-Chomp said...

You are right, this will be the trend ahead, no doubt on it.

Twilight said...

ex-Chomp ~ Yes, yet another blot on the horizon. :-/

LB said...

Twilight ~ Thanks for posting this.:) Next they'll be trying to charge us for using the library . . . or is that already happening in some places? Or the radio.:0

All this means is more and more low-income folks will have a harder time staying informed and/or 'connected' to certain aspects of the world. Try finding a job, doctor or health plan without a computer - you really can't, which means you get what you get. When I tried calling the main phone number for our so-called "health plan" last week, I received a recording telling me to call back another DAY!

As it is, I already know quite a few lower-income folks who can't afford cable (no TV) and even a few older ones who can't afford either cable *or* internet service and who go to the library for the latter whenever they need access.

We can't comfortably afford these things either, but so far we've toughed it out. No antenna reception in our lower unit would mean no TV, not even PBS or the news, and I'm not ready to go cold-turkey just yet.

LB said...

Just to clarify, when I said "computer", I meant any electronic device that allows access to the internet and provides a way to communicate. A lot of people (especially the younger ones?) just use their phones.

Twilight said...

LB ~ It's not a good outlook. As you say, internet access, as it is now, is expensive enough, out of reach for some, but at least once in we can go wherever we please for the price we've already paid. In future, unless the new ruling is overturned on appeal or FCC goes at it via some other route, we'll still be paying what we pay now, plus extras for sites THEY deem worth more - or would wish to make it hard for people like us to access by slowing speed to access them to impossible levels.

The internet is a danger to certain factions - it's too much of an aid to dissent and organisation of same. This might not be the immediate thought behind it all (or maybe it is) but I'd bet that it'd come to that eventually.....unless stopped now, right at the beginning. But there's not a lot of noise being made about it, more's the pity. People will realise only what they should have been doing when it's too late. As is the case in so many other areas. :-(

R J Adams said...

Sickening, isn't it? Another case of the so-called "Justice System" being in the corporate pocket?

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Yes, all bought and paid for! :-(

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~ Yes, all bought and paid for! :-(