After Title II, New Tripartite Open Internet Battlefront
This Thursday, the FCC will make a historic decision on Title II reclassification, enabling the agency to oversee business practices on the Internet, protect consumers from malfeasant behavior, and help spread affordable connectivity to connectivity deserts across the country. The expected decision is incredibly important, but is far from the final say in the ongoing running battle over the future of communications. Rather, the FCC will open a three-front battle for the future of an open and free Internet, one that will be waged in legal, congressional, and agency/forbearance arenas.
DC’s squadrons of telco lobbyists, with their hefty expense accounts and a penchant for hyperbole (remember the spectrum crunch that would destroy mobile phone systems by 2015, or how unlicensed would destroy radio and TV broadcasting?) won’t give up easily. Even before the Title II decision, the largest Internet Service Providers are already positioning their allies in Congress to undermine the FCC’s authority, and these bills are beginning to take shape. Advocates of a free and open Internet will not only have to continue to be vigilant to ensure that the FCC applies Title II to broadband judiciously, we’ll have to stop efforts in both chambers of Congress that would gut this important new precedent, something that could happen through the attachment of riders on must-pass legislation.
Legal challenges will also be something to watch, though the classification stands on firm ground and the courts are unlikely to reverse it. With the Brand X Supreme Court decision at our backs, this is an uphill battle for Big Broadband’s legal mercenaries.
So what should we watch out for?
Telecom lobbyists are gearing up to claim that the Title II regulations are so complicated that you won’t be able to ping a server without a signed affidavit from Tom Wheeler himself. They want to scare you with fear of red tape and big government. The problem is actually the opposite.
The FCC has the authority to forbear on applying specific elements of their regulatory authority to broadband. Thus, what broadband reclassification under Title II actually will mean will depend entirely on the #6DC6DD;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">FCC’s use of forbearance. The real concern is not overregulation, but a self-imposed abdication of authority -- in essence, the FCC voluntarily tying its own hands in ways that prevent it from doing its job to maximize the public benefits of communications.
While forbearance allows the FCC to tread softly when necessary, it also opens a Pandora’s Box where reclassification of broadband under Title II may still lack the necessary teeth to ensure accountability of some of the most powerful corporations on the planet. The shape and health of the Internet will be decided for years to come based upon whether the FCC is judiciously limited in its use of forbearance.
Ensuring an Open Internet is no longer a marginal issue championed by network engineers and policy wonks -- it’s a pocketbook issue impacting hundreds of millions of Americans and a transpartisan movement that has captured the attention and concern of the public at large. This Thursday’s decision, and the “devil's in the details” that will determine the topology of the next round of battles, warrants close attention and our continued vigilance. So let’s celebrate moving the ball forward, but forego declaring “Mission Accomplished” before we actually achieve victory.
In The News
Muni Broadband Rollout Continues. Support and funding for municipal broadband is following in the wake of the FCC’s announcement that it will take aim at state laws hindering municipally owned networks. Building on the community broadband work of Chris Mitchell at the #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">Institute for Local Self-Reliance, new plans are being announced in droves. Just this week, places such as western #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">Massachusetts, St. Lawrence County, NY, and #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">Hartsville, TN, committed to expanding broadband to rural and underserved areas at affordable rates, while even AT&T is rolling out gigabit service in #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">Kansas City in response to increasing competition. Despite these wins, municipal broadband is only one bit (if you’ll pardon the pun) of the national level investments in infrastructure that are needed to keep America competitive and expand access to the flourishing digital civil society.
Literally Orwellian. It’s not unusual for privacy advocates to describe technologies or government intrusion as ‘Orwellian,’ but Samsung went one step further this week by offering a Smart TV that listens to your every word - and warned you that ‘if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.’ Or, #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">as Orwell described it in 1984, “the telescreen received and transmitted simultaneously. Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it [...] You had to live -- did live, from habit that became instinct -- in the assumption that every sound you made was overheard…” As connected sensors become a reality in our daily lives, it is imperative to implement strong data protection regulations to ensure our privacy.
Hello Mom! (and the spies listening to this call.) The Intercept continued its series on the Snowden archive of NSA documents by detailing how American and British spies #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">stole encryption keys from the world’s largest SIM card manufacturer, showing the dangers of the centralization of the manufacturing of communications devices, just like centralized data storage, will be highlighted.
Meanwhile, Kaspersky researchers have uncovered the most sophisticated computer attack group in the world, and former NSA employees have confirmed that #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">the group is tied to the agency.
Cybersecurity Summit Highlights Lack of Attention on Privacy. As US intelligence agencies continue to spy and hack their way into the world’s electronic communications, #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">the Obama administration convened experts, military personnel, and private corporations to lay out plans for comprehensive cybersecurity.The focus on increased information sharing comes at the expense of consumer privacy, going so far as to limit liability for companies that give the government or even other companies someone’s information. Consumer protections and privacy must play a role in cybersecurity, for example, efforts to prohibit the type of dangerous and irresponsible malware #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">pre-installed by Lenovo on their computers that was recently discovered.
Connecting Cuba. #606060;font-weight: normal;text-decoration: underline;" target="_blank">Lifting restrictions on telecom investment in Cuba gives US corporations an opportunity to expand civil society and democratic participation with access and economic growth, and learn from the mistakes of telecom expansion in former Soviet States.
X-Lab Fellows Updates
Pia Mancini recently gave a widely viewed talk at TED Global (500,000 views and counting!) on rewiring democratic representation in Argentina and beyond through her open-source platform, Democracy OS. We are very excited to be working with Pia on closely integrating their participatory democracy platform, Democracy OS, with Commotion Wireless.
James Losey blogs about institutional advocacy and internet policy. "Understanding the role of institutional advocacy is important not only for understanding how a combination of tactics influences changes to internet policy, but also for recognizing how a variety of actors engage in a debate."
Ben Knight, co-founder of Loomio, an online tool for collaborative decision-making, will be coming to the U.S. to present at the Fusion RiseUp Conference in DC on November 19th.
Announcements & Events:
The Berkman Center for Internet and Society welcomes Sascha as a member of their Advisory Committee.
Sascha speaks at the INCmty Conference in Monterrey, Mexico on November 7th at 12pm.
Sascha will be speaking at ABC Continuity Forum on November 13-14 in Miami, Florida.
Sascha will be speaking at the Fusion RiseUp Conference in DC on November 19th.