The FCC, Net Neutrality, and an Open Internet

On December 14, 2017 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to repeal the Net Neutrality Rules of 2015 put in place by the Obama administration. It is an almost forgone conclusion that the repeal vote will succeed as there are two republicans along with the head of the FCC, Mr. Ajit Pai, that will vote to repeal the law. This gives them a majority of the five-person committee.

First of all, what is ‘net neutrality’? It is a set of rules that basically make all traffic on the internet equal. It ensures that all content passed over the internet will be treated the same way no matter who the provider is for the network service and more importantly, how much bandwidth they are using. In other words, Comcast cannot charge Netflix more money for use of their pipe simply because they use a lot of bandwidth. It also means that Comcast cannot throttle bandwidth for anyone because they feel that their usage is excessive.

Advocates of the repeal believe that ‘net neutrality’ has ham stringed the big carriers and kept newer technologies from being implemented because of the costs involved. If the providers could charge more on a usage basis then they would take the extra earnings and build a more efficient and robust internet. This would ultimately raise prices on some services that use a great deal of bandwidth.

In addition, the large carriers believe that competition between providers will keep the costs down and in many cases the services will be lowered. This last point is somewhat dubious in as much as there are several areas of the country that have only one provider. The end user is at the mercy of that provider and can only hope that whoever the provider is will be fair, honest, and transparent.

There are arguments for both sides of this issue but ultimately it is the end user, you and I who may end up paying a heavy price for repeal of ‘net neutrality’. There seems to be very little middle ground in the debate and it is the hope of all internet users that the large providers treat them in a fair and open manner.

The FCC is Proposing Controversial Plan to End Net Neutrality

The net neutrality concept says that internet providers should treat all data on the internet the same and not limit or block certain content or sites. Major companies have been fined for blocking or slowing content from certain sites. This could all change very soon.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is making a controversial decision to end net neutrality protections with a planned vote on December 14. The vote is expected to pass, but the measure could be halted in court because it lacks evidence for such a drastic change in policy. The Supreme Court states that all federal agencies must make a good case for any such extreme actions. The rules were put into place in 2015 under the previous administration and the FCC says that these rules have decreased investment in the internet. This statement appears to be inaccurate because data shows that investment in the internet has increased in recent years.

The vast majority of Americans seem to support net neutrality and are against the changes by the FCC. The FCC also plans on preventing governments from regulating broadband service. Many experts feel these changes will create legal challenges. It is unclear exactly why the FCC is taking these controversial actions since they don’t have data or public support on their side. On the surface, this appears to be continued movement of rollbacks of the previous administrations policies. The original net neutrality policy dates back to 2005 and existed under former presidents Bush and Obama. Once the proposed changes go into effect, it could take a very long time to come to a resolution as it goes through the court system and could eventually end up in the United States Supreme Court. Unfortunately, once the FCC vote passes on December 14, the public may soon start feeling the effects of the changes.

The FCC Wants To End Net Neutrality But The Courts May Intervene

Recently, the FCC has given notice that it will do away with Net Neutrality in an upcoming vote. Most people in the country are not very tech literate, so the fact of this vote is floating under the radar. Those people who are knowledgeable about such things see this as an alarming occurrence.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has stated that he plans to get rid of the protections that net neutrality provide. He has intimated that doing so would allow the free market to govern the growth and prosperity of the internet and that this move by the FCC is a good thing. In actuality, this move could prove to be disastrous to general public.

Net Neutrality affords the general public a number of protections. The basic tenet of net neutrality is that ISP’s should treat all internet traffic equally. This means that they should not throttle or block specific on purpose or allow companies to pay for special treatment and faster speeds.

This could be very detrimental to consumers companies transfer their increased cost to use the internet to their customers. Services such as Spotify, Netflix, Pandora, and others could see a sharp increase in price for end users without the protections that net neutrality provide.

As of now, the votes are there to end net neutrality. The measure would pass 3-2. The is hope, however, to block this potential calamity. The court has stated in matters, such as these, that agencies must provide satisfactory reasoning behind the decisions that they make. In the case of net neutrality, Pai’s reasoning is far from satisfactory. That fact, coupled with the public’s overwhelming support of net neutrality, will more than likely find that the Court would oppose the elimination of net neutrality on legal grounds. The possibility of losing net neutrality may be disturbing, but it is far from a certainty.

Securus Technologies Now Protecting Officers from Inmates

The problem that we have in our state prison is violence against inmates has escalated to the point that now corrections officers are being targeted. With more gang members filling up the jail, these younger and more violent members want to prove to their brothers they have what it takes, so lashing out at the only authority figures within arms reach is how things are playing out. To try and get back some degree of order, my superiors reached out to Securus Technologies to see if their call monitoring system would be something that could benefit officers.

 

What we discovered after speaking with Securus Technologies was that their telephone monitoring system would not only protect officers from violence, it would make the entire facility safer for staff, guests, and the inmates themselves. The company has developed a new type monitoring system that will utilize the LBS software to scan all calls and identify if any conversations need closer monitoring. The software can alert officers instantly if an inmate is on the phone discussing a drug transactions, a gang hit, or where a weapon might be hidden in the yard.

 

Securus Technologies CEO, Richard Smith. mentioned that this same system was already in over 2,400 prison systems and helping curb violence among other things. Now it was our turn, so we learned the system and were shocked at the results. That very first week the alert came down to my team about one new inmate complaining to his friend on the phone the gangs have their hooks in him and are forcing him to sell drugs for them. Another call we discovered a hit was put out on a gang member who was caught using drugs he should be selling.

 

Now that Securus Technologies has the system running in our facility, each week we reduce violent episodes one at a time now.

 

Net Neutrality: Bots, Dead People and Stolen Identities

The FCC is being deluged with comments on net neutrality, and there are questions about whether comments are genuine or not. Automated “bot” spam, breached data and comments from beyond the grave have cast doubt on the authenticity of hundreds of thousands of comments.

 

In April, the Federal Communications Commission opened up a comments portal on the topic of net neutrality proposals. The portal was provided so people could express opinions on whether or not existing net neutrality rules should be repealed. The FCC has received nearly three million replies to date. At least 400,000 of those, however, appear to have been generated by automated “bot” systems. Spammers are also using stolen personal data, names and addresses that came from hacked databases.

 

The campaign group Fight for the Future has filed a formal complaint against the FCC. The group is calling for the FCC to investigate what is clearly a pattern of fake comments. The complaint is signed by 14 individuals who claim their identities were used without their permission to post opinions on the portal. Fight for the Future reports that it has heard from hundreds of people who had their identities used fraudulently.

 

Fight for the Future also claims that the personal details of deceased people are showing up on the comments list.

 

The FCC admits that the comments portal was designed with openness in mind. When design decisions were being made, they had to choose between an open process and one that contained robust spam filters. SEC Chairman says that they “erred on the side of openness”.

 

In 2015, the FCC passed rules that required Internet service providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. The current FCC has proposed changes that would roll back net neutrality. If passed, the new proposals would allow large Internet companies to sell better Internet performance to the highest bidder.

 

The questionable and fraudulent comments serve to obscure true public opinion on net neutrality. Prevailing sentiment is that most people want to maintain net neutrality, claiming it makes for a more democratic internet, while large ISP providers and telecom companies want to revoke existing net neutrality laws for more profit potential.

Comcast Faces $2.3 Million Fine

Comcast is known for providing some truly excellent deals for consumers who purchase services. So good are deals on internet, cable, and phone services that customers don’t always look closely at the bill. Apparently someone checked a monthly statement very closely and figured out Comcast was charging customers for things they never ordered. A $2.3 million fine has been levied as a result.

 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was behind the levying of the fine. The fine was arrived at after the conclusion of an investigation that revealed, in addition to billing for unrequested services, the company also billed for equipment not asked for. Clearly, these actions were a violation of federal law.

 

At the core of the decision was the assessment that refusal of service did not mean acceptance. In other words, if the company tacked on an extra cost and no one said remove it, the company does not automatically have the right to make any assessment the customer wants the service. Not gaining a direct “yes” from a customer means Comcast cannot add services and charge for them – period.

 

The monthly bills some customers received were pretty hard to ignore. The amount of money for the charged 30-day service was way beyond what many ever signed up for. Attention about the over-billing eventually reached government regulators. As a result, the process was set in motion to levy the fine. All of this is, honestly, mysterious. Comcast does billions of dollars in business per year. Why bother with such a petty practice? Clearly, someone somewhere in management made a terrible decision. The company is now paying the price, literally, for that decision.

 

The decision may rattle other entities in the cable industry. Any company that also is utilizing these business practices surely is going to reign them in. Assuming such behavior will go unnoticed would be a false assumption. Things may go unnoticed for a time, but the truth will eventually come out. And a fee is going to end up being paid – a hefty one.