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The Internet should be treated as a utility: Susan Crawford


Susan Crawford (previously) is America's best commentator on network policy and network neutrality. In this interview with Ezra Klein, she makes the case for treating Internet access as a utility -- not necessarily a right, but something that markets do a bad job of supplying on their own. She describes how regulatory failures have made America into a global Internet laggard, with enormous damage to the nation's competitiveness and potential, and provides a compelling argument for locating the market for service in who gets to light up your fiber, not who gets to own it. Drawing on parallels to the national highway system and the electrification project, Crawford describes a way forward for America where the Internet is finally viewed as "an input into absolutely everything we do," and not merely as a glorified video-on-demand service.

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FCC adds 100MHz of spectrum to the commons

The FCC has unanimously voted to open up 100MHz of spectrum at the bottom end of the 5GHz band, redesignating them as open spectrum, under rules similar to those that created the original Wifi boom. Previously, the spectrum had been exclusively allocated to a satellite telephony company. Adding more open spectrum is amazingly great news, and even better is the bipartisan support for the move, which was attended by very promising-sounding remarks from commissioners from both parties about the value of open spectrum as a source of innovation and public value.

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Video explainer: why open spectrum matters, and why you're about to lose it

Harold Feld from Public Knowledge writes, "One of the hardest problems I face advocating for more open, shared 'unlicensed' spectrum is trying to explain exactly what 'spectrum' is and why decisions about it made by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) matter. My organization, Public Knowledge, now has a two minute video animation 'Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It' that explains for those new to these issues. The video ties in to our effort to save the newest unlicensed spectrum, 'TV white spaces,' from being auctioned away to the biggest wireless companies. If you agree after watching the video that we need to protect and promote open spectrum as well as get more licensed spectrum to AT&T and Verizon, please click through to our petition."

Wireless Spectrum: How To Use It And Why You Might Lose It (Thanks, Harold!)

Toxic Avenger's brilliant rant about the importance of Net Neutrality

Lloyd Kaufman, cofounder of Troma Entertainment (the people who brought us such films as the Toxic Avenger) has a brilliant, profane, and stirring editorial in support of Net Neutrality on Techdirt. Kaufman explains how an open Internet is the only competitve hedge against the communications giants that own "cinemas, newspapers, T.V. stations, radio and even Broadway 'legitimate' theaters." Thanks to the failure of the FCC to give Net Neutrality their full protection, and the court ruling that gutted the FCC's weak protections, Net Neutrality is in real trouble. Kaufman's editorial a great arguments for its preservation.

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Tim Wu on FCC's net neutrality disaster

Tim Wu is the law professor and activist who coined the term "net neutrality" -- the principle that ISPs should get you the data you request, as efficiently as they know how, without deliberately slowing down some sites unless they've paid bribes for "preferred carriage." The FCC had made a halfhearted and legally doomed rule to protect American net neutrality, refusing to use its full regulatory power for fear of offending the powerful telcoms corporations it is meant to regulate.

A recent court decision struck down the FCC's rule, confirming critics' fears about the weakness of the FCC's legal position. Now, in a Washington Post interview, Wu explains what a blunder the FCC made (he calls it "a FEMA-level fail") and sets out the next steps the Commission should take if it is to ameliorate the consequences of its timidity and deference to the telcos:

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FCC Net Neutrality rules are dead, but they sucked anyway: time for some better ones

Yesterday, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the FCC's Open Internet Rules. These were the closest thing to a set of Net Neutrality rules America had: rules that were supposed to ensure that ISPs fetched you the data you asked for without prejudice, rather than giving preference to the companies that had bribed them for faster access to you.

But these rules sucked

As David Isenberg points out, the Open Internet Rules were drafted to be as inoffensive to great and powerful companies as possible. They were toothless, nearly pointless rules that turned their backs on "500 years of common law and a deep corpus of case law."

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Former FCC Chairman: Let's Test an Emergency Ad Hoc Network in Boston

Jonathan Zittrain writes, "Ad hoc mesh networking has been developed to enable free and censorship-resistant communications in places like Egypt and Syria. (The New America Foundation's Commotion project is an example of that kind of network.) Less explored has been this kind of networking for public safety purposes, such during attacks or natural disasters. In this article, former FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and I explain why it'd be a good idea to develop these kinds of networks, and sketch out how they might work."

Former FCC Chairman: Let’s Test an Emergency Ad Hoc Network in Boston

Amazing wireless whitespace technology bringing free WiFi to SXSW

Elliot Noss sez,

I thought you'd be interested in something we are helping with at SXSW this weekend. a group of folks are taking advantage of unlicensed radio spectrum to provide high-speed backhaul to local WiFi access points all over SXSW. In Austin, there are 14 of these open channels using whitespace that are available. we are leveraging this. on Tuesday, the FCC will close comments on its plan to auction off many of these "whitespaces. the 'We Heart Wifi' initiative is collecting signatures on the following petition. Even if folks aren't at SXSW, they can sign on:

To all FCC Commissioners:

Please follow through on your proposal to open up a large slice of high-quality spectrum for open networks. Doing so would help create the competition necessary to extend more high-speed broadband—including 'super WiFi' and other future innovations—to more people."

We ♥ WiFi - Ting.com

Susan Crawford should run the FCC!

Andrew Rasiej sez, "If you're disappointed in the speed, quality, and cost of broadband service in the US you should learn about Susan Crawford who is the greatest US expert on the state of broadband and how the Federal Communications Commission has failed to properly regulate and spur competition or innovation in the marketplace. She has just published an OpEd in the New York Times which could easily be titled 'If I were Chairwoman of the FCC' and she published a book called Captive Audience which details the way various incumbent broadband related companies have gamed the political process and behaved unfairly in protecting their turf. Those who would like to see her actually named should sign this White House petition and send the same to their friends and colleagues. She is like the Elizabeth Warren of telecom and would fundamentally change the status quo."

To get there, the federal government needs to pursue three goals. First, it must remove barriers to investment in local fiber networks. Republican and Democratic mayors around the country are rightly jealous of the new, Google-built fiber network in Kansas City, Mo., which is luring start-ups from across the country. And yet in nearly 20 states, laws sponsored by incumbent network operators have raised barriers for cities wanting to foster competitive networks.

In response, Congress must act to restore local communities’ right to self-determination by pre-empting these unfair and anticompetitive state laws. We must also create infrastructure banks that provide long-term, low-interest financing to support the initial costs of building these networks.

Second, the F.C.C. must make reasonably priced high-speed access available to everyone. In the 20th century, we made a commitment to provide universal telephone service to every American and to subsidize that utility service for our poor and rural neighbors. High-speed Internet access is now undisputedly the dominant communications technology of our era. We need to make sure that subsidies are available for competitive companies willing to extend world-class service to more Americans.

The F.C.C.’s Connect America Fund, which is supposed to promote such expansion, is mostly funneled back through existing communications companies. This isn’t the way to encourage new wired network providers to enter local markets. Nor will voluntary programs run by local monopoly cable distributors like Comcast meet our country’s needs.

Finally, the F.C.C. must foster more competition by changing the rules that keep the status quo in place. There is a raft of regulations and processes at the F.C.C. that incumbents wield to maintain their market power, including rules about access to programming and to telephone poles that favor existing providers. The agency has ample administrative power to fix these details and to gather the information it needs to develop and enforce effective policies.

How to Get America Online

Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age

(Thanks, Andrew!)

New FCC rules will let a single company own a town's ISP, newspapers, 2 TV stations and 8 radio stations


Josh from Free Press sez, " FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wants to gut existing rules that limit media consolidation. This is bad news for people who care about the effects of too much media in too few hands. Genachowski's proposed plan would make our media less diverse, create local media monopolies and ultimately mean less news. This rule would allow ONE company to own a daily newspaper, two TV stations and up to eight radio stations in your town. And that one company could be your Internet provider, too. Scary."

No More Media for Murdoch [Petition to FCC]

FCC seeks comment on who should be allowed to shut down cellular service and when

Concerned by the San Francisco BART system's decision to suspend cellular service to frustrate coordination among protesters angered by the fatal transit police shooting of an unarmed passenger, the FCC is holding a public inquiry seeking comment on who should be allowed to order cellular service shutoffs, and when. Here's the notice, with instructions for replying. Ars Technica's Megan Geuss writes:

But the FCC's public notice also states that law enforcement personnel have raised concerns that, "wireless service could be used to trigger the detonation of an explosive device or to organize the activities of a violent flash mob," suggesting local government authorities like BART should be allowed to retain some autonomy over service in its stations.

The FCC's decision will most likely set a clear precedent for other local government agencies. So far, two electronic public comments have been posted (the FCC lets you post comments online or send them in by mail), both in favor of more severe restrictions on who can turn off cell phone service and when. "The only time it should be legal to shut down a wireless network is when it is necessary to do so to repair a defect, or when it is necessary to prevent an attack that is compromising the ability of the network to function." said one commenter, "the government and government agencies are not wise enough to judge any other scenario in which one might think about shutting down a network."

Who can shut down cell phone service? FCC seeks public comment

FCC commissioner: don't let the Internet fall into the UN's hands

FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell has a WSJ op-ed condemning a treaty proposed at the International Telecommunications Union, the UN agency that oversees global phone systems, which would transfer much of Internet governance to the UN.

Commissioner McDowell correctly asserts that transferring governance to the ITU would be bad for Internet freedom. There are few UN specialized agencies that are more ossified and more prone to being gamed by the world's totalitarian regimes than the ITU. One UN acquaintance of mine memorably referred to the ITU as the place "where superannuated telco bureaucrats go to die." And let's not forget the vital role that ITU designates filled in creating surveillance and censorship regimes established by the failing governments of Tunisia and Egypt (and the similar role they're likely playing in other regional nations in the midst of popular uprisings).

But it's pretty rich for someone from the Obama administration US government to go around talking about how the Internet is in danger from political interference from special interests. This is the administration that gave us SOPA and the TPP, that argues that ACTA can be put into law without an act of Congress, and that has made a habit of extrajudicially seizing .com and .net domains on the sloppy say-so of its political donors from the entertainment industry.

I agree with Commissioner McDowell that the Internet needs to be free of political interference. I agree that this won't happen at the ITU.

But that's where we part ways. McDowell describes a present-day Internet where wise American stewards neutrally steer the net's course. I see a world where political hacks and appointees from the lobbyist/regulator revolving-door are ready to destroy the Internet to maximize profits for one or another industry, and where an amok defense industry is ready to destroy whatever is left after Big Content gets through with its dirty work.

The Internet does need stewards, and the Obama administration has spectacularly demonstrated that it is unfit to carry out that stewardship.

Merely saying "no" to any changes to the current structure of Internet governance is likely to be a losing proposition. A more successful strategy would be for proponents of Internet freedom and prosperity within every nation to encourage a dialogue among all interested parties, including governments and the ITU, to broaden the multi-stakeholder umbrella with the goal of reaching consensus to address reasonable concerns. As part of this conversation, we should underscore the tremendous benefits that the Internet has yielded for the developing world through the multi-stakeholder model.

Upending this model with a new regulatory treaty is likely to partition the Internet as some countries would inevitably choose to opt out. A balkanized Internet would be devastating to global free trade and national sovereignty. It would impair Internet growth most severely in the developing world but also globally as technologists are forced to seek bureaucratic permission to innovate and invest. This would also undermine the proliferation of new cross-border technologies, such as cloud computing.

The U.N. Threat to Internet Freedom (via Reddit)

America's Internet service slips to #25 worldwide


Welcome to America, the country with the 25th fastest Internet service in the world, just behind Romania, and falling fast. The culprit? Hard to say, but maybe it's got something to do with the FCC's abolition of any sort of competitive markets for Internet service in the USA? Well, I'm sure it'll be fine -- after all, why would Internet access have any effect on national competitiveness, industry, jobs, health, education, civic engagement, and so forth?
Under the Bush administration, the FCC tossed out competitive broadband safeguards such as open-access requirements, which opened lines to other providers. In 2002 the agency declared that high-speed cable Internet access would no longer be considered a telecommunications service that opened the network to competitors, but rather an “information service” that did not. Following a 2005 court decision, the FCC also reclassified broadband delivered by the phone companies as an “information service.”

These were radical policy shifts that went against the long-held assumption that open communications in competitive markets were essential to economic growth and innovation.

While the U.S. blindly followed a path of "deregulation," other nations in Europe and Asia beefed up their pro-competitive policies. The results are evident in our free fall from the top of almost every global measure of Internet services, availability and speed.

Welcome to Your Hungarian Internet (Thanks, Cowicide)

(Image: US Mail, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from stephoto's photostream)

AT&T merger leak: it's all about raising prices and reducing competition

An AT&T legal staffer inadvertently (and briefly) posted a damning internal document to the FCC's docket for the pending AT&T/T-Mobile merger. The document makes it clear that "AT&T is giving Deutsche Telekom $39 billion primarily to reduce market competition" and that the company's claims of bigger network buildouts and increased employment are utterly fictional.

Again, the reality appears to be that AT&T is giving Deutsche Telekom $39 billion primarily to reduce market competition. That price tag eliminates T-Mobile entirely -- and makes Sprint (and by proxy new LTE partner LightSquared and current partner Clearwire) more susceptible to failure in the face of 80% AT&T/Verizon market domination. How much do you think wireless broadband market dominance is worth to AT&T over the next decade? After all, AT&T will be first to tell you there's a wireless data "tsunami" coming, with AT&T and Verizon on the shore eagerly billing users up to $10 per gigabyte.

Regardless of the motivation behind rejecting 97% LTE deployment, the letter proves AT&T's claim they need T-Mobile to improve LTE coverage from 80-97% simply isn't true. That's a huge problem for AT&T, since nearly every politician and non-profit that has voiced support for the merger did so based largely on this buildout promise. It's also a problem when it comes to the DOJ review, since proof that AT&T could complete their LTE build for far less than the cost of this deal means the deal doesn't meet the DOJ's standard for merger-specific benefits.

Leaked AT&T Letter Demolishes Case For T-Mobile Merger (via /.)