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'Pay to play' on the Web?: Net neutrality explained
01-16-2014, 10:54 PM
Post: #1
'Pay to play' on the Web?: Net neutrality explained
'Pay to play' on the Web?: Net neutrality explained
By Doug Gross, CNN
updated 7:15 PM EST, Wed January 15, 2014

(CNN) -- How would you like to have to pay a fee to be able to stream YouTube videos at full speed? What if you liked downloading music from, say, or Soundcloud, but those sites suddenly became infinitely slower than bigger sites like Amazon or iTunes?

Those are the kind of major changes to the Internet some folks are envisioning after a federal court ruling this week on what's come to be called "net neutrality." This stuff can get really confusing, with all the government jargon, Internet lingo and competing arguments mixed up in it. But it's also really important and could rework the Web as we know it -- like allowing the hypothetical situations above become realities.

Here's a breakdown of what this week's ruling could mean to you.

What is "net neutrality?"

Generally speaking, when folks talk about neutrality, they're referring to the ideas that led to a set of rules the Federal Communications Commission approved in 2010. The point of the rules was to keep the companies that hold the keys to the Web from playing favorites.

The "open Internet" rules prevent Internet service providers from blocking or "unreasonably discriminating" against any legal website or other piece of online content.

The philosophy behind it all, preached vociferously by Web activists, is that, in 2014, Internet access is a human right. Denying access, even in part, or giving preferential treatment to one user over another, violates that right, they say.

(The term itself was coined by Columbia law professor Tim Wu.)

What happened this week?

A federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday that the FCC doesn't have the right to enforce those rules. The court said that the government is tasked with overseeing crucial utilities like telephone service and electricity, but that the Internet isn't considered to be one of those utilities under current law.

The decision harks back to statements and decisions made by the FCC and other government agencies in the early 2000s, when molasses-slow dial-up connections were the norm and Web access wasn't nearly as common or, some would say, necessary as it is today.

The FCC has suggested it will appeal the ruling.

So what?

Everybody who accesses the Internet does so through an Internet service provider. And these providers have been pushing for the ability to dole out that access to us on their own terms.

What does that mean? For one, companies like Verizon, who sued the FCC over the rules, would be able to pick and choose who gets the best access.

So, for example, they might start charging big fees for websites to get in the "fast lane." Those fees presumably would be no problem for the Web's monster moneymakers but tougher to take for the little guys. Then, all of a sudden, you're starting to get two Internets -- a quick, smooth highway for the major players and a slow, bumpy trail for everybody else. The providers could also just blatantly play favorites. So imagine AT&T, a major provider, making traffic quicker on the websites of smartphone companies that use its mobile service and slower on the sites of phone makers who don't. We're not saying they'd do that, of course. But, theoretically, they could.

Has this ever actually happened?

In 2007, Comcast started blocking some peer-to-peer networks -- the kind customers use to transfer data-heavy files like entire movies and the like.

The FCC ordered them to stop. Comcast sued the FCC. An appeals court ultimately sided with the FCC, but by that time, the backlash had been enough for Comcast to quit on its own (after paying $16 million to settle a lawsuit, that is).

For what its worth, the Web's major service providers put out statements Tuesday saying they don't have plans to change anything based on the court's decision. Of course, it would probably be bad business to make a multimillion-dollar move before the case has played itself all the way out to the Supreme Court, which is where this one might ultimately be decided.

What's the argument against the rules?

The service providers and their supporters essentially say this is a free-enterprise issue. They say they provide a service and, therefore, should be able to decide how to deliver it and how they charge customers for it.

When the FCC approved net neutrality on a 3-2 party-line vote, Commissioner Robert McDowell, one of two Republicans who opposed it, called the vote a "radical step."

"Nothing is broken in the Internet-access market that needs fixing," he said at the time.

Randal Milch, a Verizon executive vice president, said in a statement that Tuesday's ruling "struck down rules that limited the ability of broadband providers to offer new and innovative services to their customers."

Bottom line -- could it cost me money?

It's possible.

If providers start charging a premium to websites for services, you can bet those sites will turn around and pass the cost on to their customers.

Netflix, whose movie streaming is one of the Internet's biggest bandwidth hogs, already took a ding to its stock price after the court ruled. The presumption by some investors was that providers are most likely to charge more to sites like Netflix that use so much data.

For fee-based services like Netflix, it's hard to imagine monthly fees not increasing if their cost of doing business increases. And while it's obviously all still speculation, it's possible that currently free services like Google-owned YouTube -- which already offers paid subscriptions -- could adopt adopt more pay models to make up the difference.

What's next?

The ruling wasn't a complete blasting of the FCC's position. In fact, it said the body still has the right to make rules for the Web, so the commission could possibly try again with a new set of rules.

Congress could settle the issue once and for all with a new, clearly worded law. And there's always the Supreme Court if the FCC does, in fact, decide to appeal.
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01-16-2014, 10:56 PM
Post: #2
RE: 'Pay to play' on the Web?: Net neutrality explained
Digital Democracy V. Corporate Dominance: R.I.P. Internet Neutrality?
By Stephen Lendman
Global Research, January 16, 2014

Candidate Obama promised to “support the principle of network neutrality to preserve the benefits of open competition on the Internet.” President Obama did woefully little to do so. He’s waged war on free expression. He targets whistleblowers and journalists. He wants constitutional rights abolished. He’s been more lawless than any of his predecessors. Except while campaigning, he’s been largely silent on preserving Net Neutrality. It’s the last frontier of press freedom. It permits free and open communications. America’s First Amendment is its most important. Without it all other rights are at risk.

Net Neutrality is digital freedom. Mandating it is vital.
Unrestricted online access is the only way to stay informed. It’s a vital source for real information. It’s free from state or corporate control. It’s been this way so far. Public interest groups want it preserved. Everyone has the right to demand it. It’s too precious to lose. Giant telecom and cable companies want control. They want toll roads established. They want higher priced premium lanes. They want unrestricted pricing power. They want license to steal. They want content restricted. They want the right to censor.

They want dissent crushed. They want independent thought eliminated. They want digital democracy destroyed. Net Neutrality denies them. They spent enormous amounts contesting. They want total Internet control. Achieving it assures stifled innovation, oligopoly dominance, compromised free access to real information, and digital democracy denouement.

Imagine today’s Internet resembling cable TV. Imagining providers have sole control over content. Imagine consumers having no say. At stake is digital democracy v. corporate dominance. Media scholar/critic Robert McChesney calls Net Neutrality the “defining issue” of our time.

It’s a “critical juncture (window of opportunity) to create a communication system that will be a powerful impetus (for) a more egalitarian, humane, sustainable, and creative (self-governing) society.”

It’s too precious to lose. It’s a battle that requires winning. On January 14, Free headlined “The Fight to Save Net Neutrality,” saying:

“(T)he US Court of Appeals (District of Columbia Circuit) struck down the Federal Communication Commission’s Open Internet Order.” It balances corporate and consumer interests. It doesn’t go far enough. It needs improving. In includes provisions too important to lose. Verizon sued to do so. Rules prohibit providers from slowing, blocking or prioritizing some content over others. Transparency is required. Digital First Amendment rights are protected. FCC regulation imposed stricter regulations on wired Internet services than mobile ones. Verizon argued it had no legal authority to regulate providers under common carrier rules.

It omitted explaining its real agenda. It wants nothing interfering with bottom line interests. It wants unrestricted online control. It wants digital democracy destroyed. It wants First Amendment rights abolished. Free Press called Net Neutrality “dead (for now.)” The battle is far from over. It won’t be easy going forward. Columbia Circuit judges ruled unanimously for Verizon. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler may appeal. “I am committed to maintaining our networks as engines for economic growth, test beds for innovative services and products, and channels for all forms of speech protected by the First Amendment,” he 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,” he added.

Columbia Circuit judges ruled against FCC authority to enforce rules it implemented under what Free Press calls its “complicated legal framework.”

According to Judge David Tatel:

“Even though the commission has general authority to regulate in this area, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates.” Regulations imposed are important. They don’t go far enough. They need to be toughened, not weakened or eliminated. Columbia Circuit judges oppose regulations impeding maximum profits. Corporate interests matter more than consumer ones. Digital democracy is irrelevant. Free expression doesn’t matter. Last September, Verizon’s lawyer argued that FCC regulations compromise the company’s free speech rights. Claiming it is ludicrous on its face. Verizon wants unrestricted online control. It wants censorship rights. It wants consumer free speech denied.

It wants whatever it’s against blocked. It wants sole power to decide. It wants consumers having no say. Right-wing judges agreed. They did so disgracefully. Congressional action is required. Expect none without overwhelming public pressure. Bipartisan complicity is deplorably anti-populist. Corporate interests alone matter. Obama is consistently hardline.

His policies belie his rhetoric. He says one thing. He does another. He’s done it throughout his tenure. According to Free Press:
Quote:The Columbia Circuit “ruling means that just a few powerful phone and cable companies could control the Internet.” “Without Net Neutrality, ISPs will be able to devise new schemes to charge users more for access and services, making it harder for us to communicate online – and easier for companies to censor our speech.”

Corporate gatekeepers will control “where you go and what you see.”

Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable “will be able to block content and speech they don’t like, reject apps that compete with their own offerings, and prioritize Web traffic…”

They’ll be able to “reserv(e) the fastest loading speeds for the highest bidders (while) sticking everyone else with the slowest.”

Doing so prohibits free and open communications. Censorship will become policy. Net Neutrality is too important to lose.

Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron issued a statement, saying:

Quote:Tuesday’s “ruling means that Internet users will be pitted against the biggest phone and cable companies – and in the absence of any oversight, these companies can now block and discriminate against their customers’ communications at will.”

“Without prompt corrective action by the (FCC) to reclassify broadband, this awful ruling will serve as a sorry memorial to the corporate abrogation of free speech.”

Center for Media Justice director Amalia Deloney called Tuesday’s ruling a possible “end of the Internet as we know it. For freedom’s sake, we can’t let this happen.”

“The path forward is clear: The FCC can and must reassert its authority over this essential communications infrastructure and protect the millions of Internet users now left in the cold.”

On Tuesday, a White House statement pledged support for “a free and open Internet.” Obama did so years ago duplicitously.

Throughout his tenure, he waged war on freedom. He wants First Amendment rights compromised. The White House statement rings hollow, saying:
Quote:“The President remains committed to an open Internet, where consumers are free to choose the websites they want to visit and the online services they want to use, and where online innovators are allowed to compete on a level playing field based on the quality of their products.”

Hopefully the battle for Net Neutrality is far from over. Digital democracy depends on preserving it.
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