Daily Digest 12/6/2017 (FCC Breaking With 50 Years of History)

Benton Foundation

Technological Advisory Council

Network Neutrality

How the FCC's Net Neutrality Plan Breaks With 50 Years of History

[Commentary] Did Obama really invent net neutrality? Even in a country with famously short attention spans, at least some people might have noticed that net neutrality has been around longer than that. So where did net neutrality come from? How did it get started? What’s now called the “net neutrality debate” is really a restatement of a classic question: How should a network’s owner treat the traffic that it carries? What rights, if any, should a network’s users have versus its owners? The question is ancient enough to be relevant to medieval bridges, railroad networks, and other “common carriers.” But let’s skip 500 years or so and keep the focus on telecommunications networks, where what we now call net neutrality policy really has two ancestors, both dating from the 1970s. [Tim Wu is a professor at Columbia Law School]

via Wired

The FCC plans to kill the open internet; don’t count on the FTC to save it

[Commentary] Scrapping the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC’s) net neutrality rules will harm consumers and content creators, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) isn’t going to be able to stop it.  As a commissioner at the FTC, I can vouch for the fantastic competition and consumer protection work our small agency does with its dedicated and hardworking staff. There are many things it is equipped to do well. But protecting the open internet is not one of them. The FTC does not have specialized expertise in telecommunications. We don’t have engineers with technical experience in data network management practices. We don’t even have jurisdiction over common carriers. These are very real and significant limits to the effectiveness of our tools in ensuring that networks are open and free of harmful discrimination. After-the-fact enforcement by the FTC is not a substitute for clear preemptive rules. There are other problems with relying solely on the FTC. It can be costly, difficult, and time consuming to detect and prosecute discriminatory conduct–particularly for an agency like the FTC that lacks the FCC’s technical expertise in data network management. If anyone expects the FTC singlehandedly to be able to provide the net neutrality protections that Americans overwhelmingly support, let me disabuse them of that notion. We lack the tools, the expertise, and the resources to carry out such a charge on our own. [FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny]

via Quartz

50,000 net neutrality complaints were excluded from FCC’s repeal docket

The Federal Communications Commission docket for its repeal of network neutrality rules is missing something: more than 50,000 complaints that Internet customers have filed against their Internet service providers since the rules took effect in 2015. The National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC) was able to obtain the text of net neutrality complaints from the FCC via a public records request but says it has not been able to convince the FCC to include them in the repeal docket. "It seems to me that the commission is going to great lengths to ignore these documents and not incorporate them into the record," said NHMC General Counsel Carmen Scurato. Scurato and NHMC Special Policy Advisor Gloria Tristani went to the FCC headquarters Dec 1 and spoke to an FCC employee who handles the public commenting system. Scurato said, "[We] hand-delivered two filings with USB flash drives, one of which included all of the documents that the FCC produced in response to our FoIA requests. We were told by staff at the FCC that they would not upload the documents in the USB flash drive and instead would put a note in the record saying that the flash drive was available for inspection at the commission." Scurato said they also asked if the FCC has any official guidance for including such documents in the record but didn't get anything in return. "I asked if it would have been different had we printed out all the pages, and she said that honestly no, they wouldn't upload that either—maybe a few samples, and would have included that same note [about the documents being available for inspection at the FCC office]," Scurato said. That note about documents being available for inspection apparently isn't on the docket yet. A spokesperson for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's said that "the NHMC issue is fully addressed" in the net neutrality repeal proposal, starting on paragraph 335.

Don't Believe AT&T's Net Neutrality Lies

Last week, AT&T Senior Vice President Bob Quinn tried (and failed) to undercut Network Neutrality supporters by insisting that Free Press has been foretelling doom and gloom since 2010. That’s when the Federal Communications Commission adopted weak open-internet rules that didn’t cover mobile access. Quinn claims that none of Free Press’ predictions about carriers engaging in mobile blocking ever came true — but he conveniently overlooks how AT&T blocked FaceTime on its cellular networks in 2012 and 2013. When in this latest piece of AT&T propaganda they accuse Free Press of making falsely dire predictions in 2010, that’s a cool story for them to tell. It’s just not true. Of course, AT&T does accidentally tell the truth from time to time. It’s bound to happen when the company changes its story so often. AT&T contradicts itself from moment to moment and from year to year in different proceedings at the FCC, and then contradicts much of what it says to politicians in the disclosures it makes to its own shareholders. For instance, a lot of the current fight over keeping the Title II Net Neutrality rules is about broadband investment. One of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s main arguments is that broadband investment declined because of Title II. Free Press has shown time and again that Pai’s claim simply isn’t true, and that broadband providers’ aggregate investment has gone up since the FCC adopted the rules Pai now threatens. But more important than these aggregate numbers is what AT&T itself told the FCC back in 2010. It’s nonsensical to expect infrastructure investment to go up every year. Investment is “lumpy”: Carriers build and upgrade networks, then reap the benefits while making new investment plans. Perhaps it’s time for AT&T execs to quit while they’re behind and abandon their flimsy and hypocritical crusade against Net Neutrality protections. Something tells us they won’t, no matter how many times they pretend to forget all their past statements and misdeeds.

Diversity Groups Ask FCC to Preserve Sec. 706 Internet Backstop

Diversity groups supporting Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai's network neutrality rule rollback have been meeting with FCC officials to make sure that those diverse interests continue to be protected and advanced in a new net-neutrality enforcement regime. According to The Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council and the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters, they have held five meetings over the past few days with representatives either the staffs of all five commissioners and/or their bosses to advise them to rethink not preserving the FCC's Sec. 706 authority to prevent violations of "core net neutrality principles." Sec. 706 is the congressional directive to the FCC to make sure advanced telecommunications is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. That was the authority that undergirded the first Open Internet Order that was not based in Title II. They said that "even assuming that the FTC agrees top allow net neutrality complaints to jump to the head of its rather long complaint queue, there is still a learning curve and a big "'unknown' associated with an enforcement paradigm that has never before been attempted." They said that if the FCC does not want to retain a Sec. 706 backstop, it should issue a further notice of proposed rulemaking FNPRM or find some other way to address the impact of removing reliance on Sec. 706 on bridging the digital divide, small businesses and online participation. They also want the FCC to open a new docket on digital redlining while stating in the Restoring Internet Freedom proceeding that digital redlining (not providing advanced communications) based on race, ethnicity or income is out of bounds. "If the loss of Section 706 enforcement constrains the FCC’s ability to put an end to digital redlining, that would be devastating," they said.

Rep Ro Khanna pushes back on criticism of his net neutrality comment

Rep Ro Khanna (D-CA) -- who represents parts of Silicon Valley -- defended a controversial statement he made in a conversation with his local paper last week that pointed to Portugal as an example of what happens when regulations don't protect network neutrality. Backers of the repeal of U.S. net neutrality rules note that Portugal is subject to Europe-wide rules. But Rep Khanna says they're too weak on "zero rating" programs that let internet customers view certain content without counting against their monthly data caps. "The strongest form would be net neutrality with a significant ban on zero rating. Right below that is what FCC Chair Wheeler did under the Obama administration: net neutrality with a case-by-case review of zero rating by the FCC," he said. 

via Axios

Remarks Of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai At The International Institute Of Communications Telecommunications And Media Forum

Government & Communications

How to Stand Up to the Kremlin

[Commentary] Whereas Soviet intelligence operatives occasionally tried to plant false stories in Western media outlets, today the Kremlin subcontracts the task to proxies, who spread customized disinformation using fake accounts on social media. These proxies need not even reside in Russia since they can be contacted and compensated via the so-called Dark Web (a parallel, closed-off internet) wherever they live. Different messages can be tailored to specific demographic groups, depending on the Kremlin’s goals, which have ranged from discouraging voter turnout to boosting attendance at political rallies held by Russia’s preferred candidates.  As more news breaks each day about the extent of Russia’s disinformation campaign and the tactics that Moscow used to manipulate public opinion and exploit the fault lines within U.S. society, it falls on all Americans to be aware and informed citizens. We must collectively reject foreign influence over our democratic institutions and do more to address the challenges within our own communities, rather than allowing demagogues at home and tyrants abroad to drive us apart. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies do not understand that the greatest strength of American democracy is an engaged citizenry. Even if the president refuses to act, we can. [Joe Biden leads the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and served as Vice President of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Michael Carpenter is Senior Director of the Penn Biden Center and served as US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense from 2015 to 2017.]

Russia Designates US-Backed Broadcasters as ‘Foreign Agents’

The Russian government declared the broadcasters Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty “foreign agents” on Dec 5, in retaliation for a similar action against Russian state-run news outlets in the United States. The Kremlin-financed television station RT America and its affiliated news agency, Sputnik, complied in Nov with an order from the Justice Department that they registered as foreign agents. This followed a report by American intelligence agencies in January that concluded that the Kremlin was using RT America as a tool “to undermine faith in the U.S. government and fuel political protest.” Russian lawmakers and government representatives were infuriated by the decision, rushing through the retaliatory legislation within days. President Vladimir V. Putin signed the law at the end of November. But earlier fears that the law might extend the registration requirement to major Western news organization were allayed when the act made no mention of them.

How the Kremlin Tried to Pose as American News Sites on Twitter

Census Can Move Forward After $283 Million Contract Dispute with AT&T

AT&T will no longer protest a Census Bureau contract to provide mobile devices for workers for the 2020 Census, according to an official from a congressional watchdog agency. In a letter dated Nov 8, a Census official told the Government Accountability Office that AT&T would no longer contest the $283 million mobile contract awarded to CDW-G, a GAO official involved in the protest said. Instead, the companies reached an agreement in which AT&T would assist CDW-G in Census operations as a subcontractor, the Census official wrote. The resolution of the mobile contract dispute allows work to resume on preparations for the 2020 Census, which are already far behind schedule.


Don’t blame the election on fake news. Blame it on the media.

We agree that fake news and misinformation are real problems that deserve serious attention. We also agree that social media and other online technologies have contributed to deep-seated problems in democratic discourse such as increasing polarization and erosion of support for traditional sources of authority. Nonetheless, we believe that the volume of reporting around fake news, and the role of tech companies in disseminating those falsehoods, is both disproportionate to its likely influence in the outcome of the election and diverts attention from the culpability of the mainstream media itself. As troubling as the spread of fake news on social media may be, it was unlikely to have had much impact either on the election outcome or on the more general state of politics in 2016.  A potentially more serious threat is what a team of Harvard and MIT researchers refer to as “a network of mutually reinforcing hyper-partisan sites that revive what Richard Hofstadter called ‘the paranoid style in American politics,’ combining decontextualized truths, repeated falsehoods, and leaps of logic to create a fundamentally misleading view of the world.” In sheer numerical terms, the information to which voters were exposed during the election campaign was overwhelmingly produced not by fake news sites or even by alt-right media sources, but by household names like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN. Without discounting the role played by malicious Russian hackers and naïve tech executives, we believe that fixing the information ecosystem is at least as much about improving the real news as it about stopping the fake stuff.

Ziff Davis has bought Mashable at a fire sale price and plans to lay off 50 people (Vox)


Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private Spies to Counter "Deep State" Enemies

Apparently, the Trump Administration is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies. The plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Donald Trump’s presidency. The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.


Rep. Ellison Introduces Merger Retrospective Act

Reps Keith Ellison (D-MN), David Cicilline (D-RI), Ro Khanna (D-CA), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rick Nolan (D-MN), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) and Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) introduced the Merger Retrospective Act to curb the harmful effects of corporate monopolization on working people. Rep Ellison’s bill attempts to illuminate the impact of corporate mergers on the American economy by directing the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) to assess each merger’s effect on price, quality, and availability of products and services at the merged firm, as well as employment reduction and worker compensation.

Google Pulls YouTube From Amazon Devices, Saying It Isn’t Playing Fair

Google said it is pulling YouTube from some Amazon.com Inc. devices in retaliation for Amazon refusing to sell many Google products, escalating a battle between two tech titans as their businesses increasingly overlap. Google said Amazon’s retail website doesn’t sell competing products like the Google Home smart speaker or Google’s Chromecast streaming device. Google also claimed that Amazon’s Prime Video lineup of shows and movies isn’t available via the Chromecast. It added that Amazon has stopped selling some products from Nest, a connected-device maker that is Google’s sister firm under Alphabet. Amazon in October launched a home-security system that competes with Nest. An Amazon spokeswoman said, “Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website.”


Facebook Allowed Political Ads That Were Actually Scams and Malware

Russian disinformation isn’t the only deceptive political advertising on Facebook. The pitch designed to lure President Donald Trump’s critics is one of more than a dozen politically themed advertisements masking consumer rip-offs that ProPublica has identified since launching an effort in September to monitor paid political messages on the world’s largest social network. As the American public becomes ever more polarized along partisan lines, swindlers who used to capitalize on curiosity about celebrities or sports are now exploiting political passions. Although these scams represent only a tiny fraction of the more than 8,000 politically themed advertisements assembled by the Political Ad Collector, they raise doubts about Facebook’s ability to monitor paid political messages. In each case, the ads ran afoul of guidelines Facebook has developed to curb misleading and malicious advertising.

News Corp launches new ad network to take on Facebook/Google

via Axios

Too High a Price for America’s Next Generation TV System

[Commentary] On November 16, the Federal Communications Commission granted TV licensees the right to provide what it euphemistically called “the next generation TV broadcast standard.” Although this giveaway of spectrum rights (popularly known as the “public airwaves”) to media plutocrats had substantial benefits for the American public, it also had needlessly high costs.


Commissioner Rosenworcel Announces New Staff

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel announced the appointment of Jessica Martinez as Special Advisor and Confidential Assistant. Martinez joins Commissioner Rosenworcel’s office from the US House Energy and Commerce Committee Democratic Staff, where she served as the Outreach and Member Services Coordinator. Martinez also served as the Communications Director for the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association. Before her time on Capitol Hill, Martinez served as an Associate with a DC strategic firm, focusing on children’s healthcare policy issues. Her prior experience also includes time as a fellow with Progressive Congress, an internship with the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee, and the Latino Outreach Coordinator for the Utah State Democratic Party. She holds a BA from the University of Utah.

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YouTube blog: Expanding our work against abuse of our platform (YouTube)

Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) -- we welcome your comments.

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