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One Day After FCC’s Net Neutrality Repeal, Focus Turns to Reactions and Responses

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WASHINGTON, December 15, 2017 – The Federal Communications Commission’s Thursday vote to repeal the “open internet” rules classifying broadband services as common carriers represents the most significant regulatory shift in the internet in more than a decade. Critics in Congress, at the agency, and even on late-night TV wasted no time in blasting it.

These repealed network neutrality regulations prohibited broadband internet providers from speeding up or slowing down certain websites’ internet traffic based on financial or business relationships. Now, internet providers will be free to throttle, block and prioritize traffic, so long as they provide notice to consumers that they are doing so.

The most recent iteration of those regulations were put in place by the FCC under President Obama in February 2015. It was based on Title II of the Communication Act, which regulates common carriers like telephone companies.

Such common carriage rules require telephone providers to treat all traffic the same in the same way. For example, Ma Bell was prohibited from prioritizing voice calls over fax calls, or prioritizing the calls of customers who buy telephone handsets from the phone company over those who didn’t.

Broadband reverts to being an information service ‘regulated’ under Title I

Under the rules that the FCC will implement after Thursday’s vote, broadband internet access service will revert to being “regulated” under Title I. That section of the law governs “ancillary services,” and for decades the FCC has classified “information services” under this lesser regulatory standard.

These information services are not subject to the same kinds of requirements as are common carriers.

Thursday’s result was only the latest chapter in a public policy battle that has raged since the waning years of the George W. Bush Administration.

At the time, the FCC under then-Chairman Kevin Martin ruled that Comcast had discriminated against peer-to-peer file-sharing applications by blocking traffic using the BitTorrent application.

The agency had held that Comcast’s actions departed from standard industry practice and did not fall under the category of “reasonable network management.” That was, then, part of the standard under which the FCC would allow a broadband provider to manage traffic.

Chairman Julius Genachowski, the first chairman selected by Obama, said that the FCC would be a “smart cop on the beat.” Genachowski proposed network neutrality rules that would enforceable under Title I – the less-regulatory standard – of the law. But those rules were also struck down by the D.C. Circuit Court.

In part, that led Genachowski’s successor Tom Wheeler to take the stricter step of reclassifying broadband under Title II.

Taking enforcement authority for internet violations out of the hands of the FCC

Not only does the FCC’s action Thursday undo that reclassification, it goes further by declaring that the FCC will not attempt to regulate broadband providers at all. Additionally, enforcement of what little that remains of the “net neutrality” rules are passed to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC can only take enforcement actions after a violation of consumer protection rules has occurred. Further, under a recent decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the FTC may not even have the authority to regulate broadband providers at all.

The Department of Justice Antitrust Division could also initiate litigation. But that can take years to achieve a result.

While Pai characterized Thursday’s vote as a return to the “light-touch” regulation that existed before 2015, it goes further. It abdicates the authority and responsibility that Martin – a Republican considered an ardent foe of network neutrality – acknowledged that the FCC possessed.

Sharply critical reactions from Democrats in Congress

In addition to strong comments by Congressional Democrats like Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-California, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts, progressives and other advocates of net neutrality rules through their lot behind arguments that the FCC cannot simply abandon it authority to enforce consumer-focused standards for an internet.

During a conference call with media last week, former FCC general counsel Jonathan Sallet predicted that the courts would not allow the FCC to pick and choose which parts of the law to enforce.

“The draft order seems to say that the FCC is no longer interested in exercising its responsibilities as an expert agency,” said Sallet. “I do not believe a court of appeals will uphold this order.”

On Thursday, Markey and Eshoo added that in addition to leading efforts to draft an amicus brief for litigation in support of the rules, Markey said he will introduce a resolution under the Congressional Review Act that would overturn the FCC’s decision.

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont – who conducted a Judiciary Committee field hearing in Vermont on the subject of network neutrality — also condemned Thursday’s vote in a statement.

“Today the FCC took a wrecking ball to the pillars of freedom and openness upon which the Internet was built.  Without the protection of net neutrality rules, powerful telecommunication companies can decide which content gets preferential treatment and which gets throttled or even blocked,” he said.

Leahy added that the decision will hurt consumers, small businesses, and startups by stifling innovation and competition, and pledged to keep fighting until the protections are restored.

Late-night comedians weigh in with their studied analyses

Even late-night television hosts whose employers have interests in the debate got in on attacking the FCC’s decision, with Stephen Colbert of CBS (which runs its’ own video streaming service), Seth Meyers of NBC (which is owned by Comcast), and Jimmy Kimmel of ABC (which is owned by Disney, which is starting its own video streaming services which could be blocked under the new rules) condemning the vote, which Kimmel called “absolutely despicable.”

“So now, we have to hope Congress agrees to vote on and reverse it,” Kimmel said. “So, thank you, President Trump – thanks to you and this (explitive deleted) [Pai] you appointed to run the FCC — big corporations are about to take control of the internet.”

Critics also raise concerns about the FCC’s public comment process

Kimmel noted that many of the public comments filed with the FCC that were in favor the repeal turned out to have been filed under the names of dead people.

Wheeler and others had previously noted that problems with the public comment process, which attracted more comments than any other rulemaking in the FCC’s history.

That could factor into litigation seeking to overturn the new rules by allowing network neutrality advocates to claim that the FCC did not properly follow the Administrative Procedure Act.

Internet service providers pleased with the decision

While consumer groups and most technology companies were vehemently against repealing the 2015 rules, perhaps the only groups excited about the FCC’s vote were those associated with large broadband providers.

Michael Powell, President and CEO of NCTA – The Internet Association, praised the FCC’s decision in a statement released to reporters.

“Today’s FCC action rightly restores the light-touch approach to government regulation of the internet that has fostered the development of a vibrant, open and innovative platform,” Powell said. “For decades, America’s internet service providers have delivered an open internet – allowing consumers to enjoy the lawful internet content and applications of their choosing.”

Powell said that Internet providers have repeatedly pledged to continue to adhere to the now-repealed rules, but did not explain why his association’s members lobbied so aggressively for the rules’ repeal if they still want to follow them.

The two Democratic FCC commissioners minced no words

Democrats on the FCC railed against Pai and the Republican majority in angry statements delivered before the vote.

“I dissent from this rash decision to roll back net neutrality rules,” Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat said.

“I dissent. I dissent from this fiercely spun, legally lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order,” said Rosenworcel’s senior Democratic colleague.

(Photo of Sen. Patrick Leahy, among the critics of the FCC’s Thursday decision on net neutrality.)

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Public Safety

Lack of People Opting Into Emergency Alerts Poses Problems for Natural Disaster Scenarios

Disaster protocol experts remarked on lessons learned from fire outbreaks in Boulder County, Colorado.

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Photo of Lori Adams of Nokia discussing emergency communications response to Colorado wildfires at Mountain Connect by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 26, 2022 – A lack of people opting into local emergency alerts poses a severe challenge for public officials during natural disasters, a panel of experts said Tuesday.

The panel remarked on just how significant the number of people not subscribed to emergency alerts is during a panel on disaster preparedness at the annual Mountain Connect conference.

In Boulder, getting emergency alerts is on an opt-in basis, whereas in other areas, it is opt-in by default.

The specific focus of the panel was on lessons learned from the outbreak of fires in Boulder County, Colorado this past December.

Fires presented challenges for providers

Several challenges of managing a response to the fires were recounted.

Blake Nelson, Comcast’s senior director of construction, stated that some of his company’s underground broadband infrastructure buried at a considerable depth was still melted from the heat of the fires to cause service outages for customers. Thomas Tyler, no stranger to disaster response as Louisiana’s deputy director for broadband and connectivity through several hurricane responses, pointed out that it is quite possible local officials may be skilled in responding to one type of disaster such as a hurricane but not another like a tornado.

Screenshot of Blake Nelson, Jon Saunders, Wesley Wright and Thomas Tyler (left to right)

The panel also spoke to the challenges of coordination between essential companies and agencies if people do not have personal relationships with those who work at such entities other than their own.

Successful emergency responses to service outages during disaster serve as models for the future, with Nelson stating the internet provider opened up its wireless hotspots to temporarily increase service access and Tyler saying that standing up Starlink satellite internet access helped bring broadband to Louisiana communities only accessible by bridge or boat during their periods of disaster.

Conversation moderator Lori Adams, senior director of broadband policy and funding strategy at Nokia, suggested keeping town servers not in municipal buildings but rather off site and Wesley Wright, partner at law firm Keller and Heckman, recommended the Federal Communications Commission’s practice of developing strong backup options for monitoring service outages.

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Education

Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning

Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.

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Screenshot of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 – Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited and provide extra help for students who need individualized teaching, experts said at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Tuesday.

As policy makers weigh the options for a structure for AI in the classroom, panelists agreed on its benefits for both teachers and students. Michelle Zhou, CEO of AI company Juji Inc., said AI technology in the classroom can be tools and applications like chatbots for real-time questions during class, and post-class questions at home for when the teacher is not available.

Lynda Martin, director of learning strategy for strategic solutions at learning company McGraw Hill, said AI provides the extra help students need, but sometimes are too shy to ask.

When a teacher has a high volume of students, it is difficult to effectively help and connect with each student individually, Martin said. AI gives the teacher crucial information to get to know the student on a more personal level as it transmits the student’s misconceptions and detects areas of need. AI can bring student concerns to the teacher and foster “individualized attention” she added.

Privacy and security concerns

Jeremy Roschelle from Digital Promise, an education non-profit, raise the privacy and security concerns in his cautious support of the idea. He noted that there needs to be more information about who has access to the data and what kinds of data should be used.

Beside bias and ethical issues that AI could pose, Roschelle cautioned about the potential harms AI could present, including misdetecting a child’s behavior, resulting in potential educational setbacks.

To utilize the technology and ensure education outcomes, Sharad Sundararajan, co-founder of learning company Merlyn Minds, touched on the need for AI training. As Merlyn Minds provides digital assistant technology to educators, he noted the company’s focus on training teachers and students on various forms of AI tech to enhance user experience.

There is an “appetite” from schools that are calling for this, said Sundararajan. As policy makers contemplate a strategic vision for AI in the classroom, he added that AI adoption in the classroom around the country will require algorithmic work, company partnerships, and government efforts for the best AI success.

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Education

Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.

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Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group SIIA, formerly known as the Software and Information Industry Association. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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