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Net Neutrality

Senators Criticize AT&T for Apparently Favoring HBO Max by Not Counting Streaming Against Data Caps

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Sen. Richard Blumenthal in April 2013 by Vivian Felten used with permission

June 4, 2020 — Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., penned a letter to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, rebuking him for not counting HBO Max usage against users’ monthly data caps.

AT&T owns HBO, a relationship the senators claimed violates the company’s stated interest in a “free and open internet.” A report from the Verge found that although any company can be part of AT&T’s “sponsored data” system, where companies can pay to excuse users from overage charges, the only streaming services utilizing the system were owned by AT&T.

Obama-era net neutrality legislation made this behavior illegal, but in 2017 the Federal Communications Commission voted to strike down the regulations. Now, HBO Max can evade data caps by paying its parent company.

“The network is the plumbing, and the content is the water. And you’re seeing water and the plumbing kind of coming together,” said Tony Goncalves, an AT&T executive who oversees HBO Max.

Despite the FCC’s  2017 decision, a policy review just a year earlier stated that the agency was concerned about the presentation of “significant risks to consumers and competition in downstream industry sectors because of network operators’ potentially unreasonable discrimination in favor of their own affiliates.”

The letter expressed concern that AT&T’s behavior shows preferential treatment and discourages normal marketplace competitiveness.

“The Trump FCC may have gutted critical net neutrality protections, but AT&T nonetheless has a responsibility to avoid any policies or practices that harm consumers and stifle competition,” it read.

Practically speaking, the senators’ power is limited, but they requested a formal explanation from the company by June 25.

Given the explosive national response to the repeal of net neutrality, the senators may potentially be able to drum up public backlash sufficient to force the company to reconsider.

Elijah Labby was a Reporter with Broadband Breakfast. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and now resides in Orlando, Florida. He studies political science at Seminole State College, and enjoys reading and writing fiction (but not for Broadband Breakfast).

Net Neutrality

For or Against, It’s Time To Consider Codifying Net Neutrality In Law, Panelists Say

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Morgan Reed from C-SPAN

March 18, 2021 – The issue of net neutrality has captured more bandwidth than needed and the concept – either for or against – must be codified in the law so the issue doesn’t surface every election cycle, the president of the App Association said during a Federal Communications Bar Association event Thursday.

“Absent congressional action, this yo-yo will continue,” said Morgan Reed, whose organization represents app makers and connected device companies. Reed proposed Congress deal with the matter by, once and for all, putting it in the Telecommunications Act.

The debate about net neutrality, which stipulates that all internet traffic should be treated equally and that no telecom should be able to accept payment to speed up applications, has picked up since the Federal Communications Commission changed leadership and President Joe Biden took office.

The acting chairwoman has been a supporter of net neutrality. Biden’s justice department dropped a lawsuit recently challenging a proposed net neutrality law in California, which AT&T said forced it to stop offering free services because it would not be able to give it preferential treatment under the proposed law.

All roads seem to point to the reinstatement of net neutrality rules once instated by the Obama-era FCC but was reversed by the Trump-era regulator.

Currently, telecommunications is categorized as a Title I service, meaning it is spared from additional FCC regulatory burdens like managing content over its networks. That can be reversed if it is reclassified as a Title II, which effectively bring it under the ambit of the net neutrality rules.

Kristine Hackman, vice president of policy and advocacy at US Telecom, said operating under Title I regulations is not appropriate and outdated.

“We can’t regulate internet well with a statute that was written before World War II!” She defended ISPs and said they are not engaging in throttling, despite what she called false accusations suggesting otherwise, and said it is not in their natural conscience to even try to throttle since the consumer is in their minds.

Part of the issue with the approach to net neutrality is the confusion surrounding who governs the issues. Jon Peha, professor at Carnegie Mellon University, said that the newspapers these days confuse legal authority with the rules, saying the FCC’s authority to regulate is muddied with what authority the Federal Trade Commission has. He said the current position of the FCC is that it has no authority to deal with net neutrality, privacy, and even pole attachments, explaining that its authority over communications infrastructure is unclear.

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Copyright

Public Knowledge Celebrates 20 Years of Helping Congress Get a Clue on Digital Rights

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot of Gigi Sohn from Public Knowledge's 20th anniversary event

February 27, 2021 – The non-profit advocacy group Public Knowledge celebrated its twentieth anniversary year in a Monday event revolving around the issues that the group has made its hallmark: Copyright, open standards and other digital rights issues.

Group Founder Gigi Sohn, now a Benton Institute for Broadband and Society senior fellow and public advocate, said that through her professional relationship with Laurie Racine, now president of Racine Strategy, that she became “appointed and anointed” to help start the interest group.

Together with David Bollier, who also had worked on public interest projects in broadcast media with Sohn, and is now director of Reinventing the Commons program at the Schumacher Center for a New Economics, the two cofounded a small and scrappy Public Knowledge that has become a non-profit powerhouse.

The secret sauce? Timing, which couldn’t have been better, said Sohn. Being given free office space at DuPont Circle at the New America Foundation by Steve Clemmons and the late Ted Halstead, then head of the foundation, was instrumental in Public Knowledge’s launch.

The cofounders met with major challenges, Sohn and others said. The nationwide tragedy of September 11, 2001, occurred weeks after its official founding. The group continued their advocacy of what was then more commonly known as “open source,” a related grandparent to the new “net neutrality” of today, she said.

In the aftermath of September 11, a bill by the late Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, D-S.C., demonstrated a bid by large copyright interest to force technology companies to effectively be the copyright police. Additional copyright maximalist measures we launched almost every month, she said.

Public Knowledge grew into something larger than was probably imagined by the three co-founders. Still, they shared setbacks and losses that accompanied their successes and wins.

“We would form alliances with anybody, which meant that sometimes we sided with internet service providers [on issues like copyright] and sometimes we were against them [on issues like telecom],” said Sohn. An ingredient in the interest group’s success was its desire to work with everyone.

Congress didn’t have a clue on digital rights

What drove the trio together was a shared view that “Congress had no vision for the future of the internet,” explained Sohn.

Much of our early work was spend explaining how digitation works to Congress, she said. The 2000s were a time of great activity and massive growth in the digital industry and lawmakers at the Hill were not acquainted well with screens, computers, and the internet. They took on the role of explaining to members of Congress what the interests of their constituents were when it came to digitization.

Public Knowledge helped popularize digital issues and by “walking [digital information] across the street to [Capitol Hill] at the time created an operational reality with digitization,” said Bollier.

Racine remarked about the influence Linux software maker Red Hat had during its 2002 initial public offering. She said the founders of Red Hat pushed open source beyond a business model and into a philosophy in ways that hadn’t been done before.

During the early days of Public Knowledge, all sorts of legacy tech was being rolled out. Apple’s iTunes, Windows XP, and the first Xbox launched. Nokia and Sony were the leaders in cellphones at the time, augmenting the rise of technology in the coming digital age.

Racine said consumers needed someone in Washington who could represent their interests amid the new software and hardware and embrace the idea of open source technologies for the future.

Also speaking at the event was Public Knowledge CEO Chris Lewis, who said Public Knowledge was at the forefront of new technology issues as it was already holding 3D printing symposiums before Congress, something totally unfamiliar at the time.

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Net Neutrality

Serious Conversation Needed on Net Neutrality, Says New FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot of FCC Commissioner Nate Simington

February 16, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington said Tuesday that serious conversations need to be had about reforming net neutrality rules.

Simington sits on a very different-looking FCC, which includes net neutrality advocates including Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

Net neutrality regulations banning broadband providers from blocking or throttling internet traffic were repealed by the Trump Administration-era FCC in December 2017.

Speaking at a Free State Foundation event, Simington said that communications companies should be permitted to manipulate traffic for revenue – speeding up some traffic for whichever content provider pays – even though it exacerbates the oligopoly problem in the U.S. The reason? Many Americans don’t even have access to high-speed internet.

At the same time, he also argued that no broadband provider should be able to throttle data.

And he also argued that the internet should be treated like a utility with minimum standards, especially now that the pandemic has proved the importance of connectivity. “If utilities aren’t allowed to provide poor service, why should internet service providers be able to?” he said.

Simington also touched on the need for broadband infrastructure as people have become reliant on broadband at-home during the pandemic. “America’s hunger for wireless bandwidth has gone parabolic in the last 10 years,” he said.

Simington said that major players in the wired infrastructure industry are setting minimum bandwidth and latency – the speed of real-time communications – standards that would have seemed absurdly high just a few years ago.

Simington also said he believes funding and regulating infrastructure should be delegated properly between the state and federal government. States can and should have a role to play in regulating industries, he said.

Simington said he hopes that, in celebration of the 25-year anniversary of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, that Congress considers a refresh of the law as newer technologies, such as video communication, emerges.

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