Thursday, July 20, 2017

FCC

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There is no line to cross anymore.

President Trump’s Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai, is being continuously harassed by liberal protestors, reportedly over his attempts to reverse the net-neutrality policies which were given a go-ahead by the Obama administration.

According to the Wall Street Journal, activists belonging to the liberal group, Popular Resisitance, have started gathering outside Pai’s home in Arlington, Virginia. However, they’re not just standing outside his home to show their displeasure with the new administration’s policies. Protestors have begun going up to Pai’s home’s windows and are reportedly taking pictures of the interior. Pai lives in his Arlington home with his wife and two children.

“They were there yesterday. I understand they’ll be there today. They’ll be there tomorrow and the day after,” Pai told the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s a hassle, especially for my wife and my two young children,” the he said.

Pai further added that some of the protesters “come up to our front windows and take photographs of the inside of the house. My kids are 5 and 3.”

“It’s not pleasant,” the FCC chairman acknowledged.

In AJit Pai’s neighbourhood in Arlington, activists have also distributed flyers asking other residents if they’ve seen Pai. The flyers describe Pai; giving his age, weight, and height, and claim that he’s “trying to destroy net neutrality.”

While most call this clear harassment, activist outside Pai’s home call it “Ajit-ation.”

In a straight party line vote in February 2015, FCC commissioners approved net neutrality rules that were intended to ban broadband service providers from throttling, blocking, or prioritizing certain content over others.

Three Democrats, including Tom Wheeler, the then-FCC chairman, voted in favor of the new rules, while tow Republicans, including Pai opposed the measure. At that time, Pai called the net-neutrality rules a “monumental shift toward government control of the Internet” and a “rapid departure” from market-oriented approaches.

However, Wheeler argued back, saying net neutrality would go on to make America even “more competitive.” He further said that it would “assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want.”

Wheeler also said it would secure the “rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.”

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Congress is great at this game.

While President Donald Trump wasted little time after taking his oath of office to outline his vision to “make America great again,” Republicans in Congress have behaved more like a sleepy bear waking from nearly a decade of hibernation.

The latest example of this legislative yawn was the move by the House last week to “reform” internet privacy laws. In a typical “pass-the-buck” fashion, the House majority simply concurred in a vote by the Senate to overturn a 2016 decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that limited in a small way how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) could access and use browsing data for commercial purposes, such as selling it to third parties.

Last year’s ruling by the FCC, however, only applied to ISPs and not industry giants such as Google and Amazon; and, this was the public excuse on which the House GOP hung its hat to justify the precipitous vote to ratify the Senate action and nullify the rule.

Supporters of the measure, which included all but 15 House Republicans, claimed the Obama-era ruling was “unfair” because it only applied to ISPs, and not everyone else. They also argued in another inside-the-Beltway manner that it should have been a different federal regulatory agency – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – that made the change. So, in what now seems to be the way Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Mitch McConnell are running things at the Capitol, when confronted with a substantive but important question of reforming and modernizing a complex issue – in this case, internet privacy — Republicans simply hit the “Easy Button,” call it a day, and return to the status quo.

If the excuse for this failure to address a timely and relevant issue sounds familiar, it should. Simply look at the failure by the GOP last month to take the time and devote the effort to develop, draft, present and explain to the American people a true repeal and replacement for Obamacare – rather than the Rube-Goldberg plan that neither repealed the underlying law nor replaced it with comprehensive, market-base provisions. Doing little is always easier than doing it right.

Many of today’s laws regarding data and personal privacy reflect technology from the 1970s and 1980s, long before the age of the internet cloud, search engines, and metadata. As such, they are woefully inadequate at addressing pressing practical and constitutional questions of personal privacy; this in an era when even a small sampling of an individual’s search history can reveal deeply intimate details of one’s life.

Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor perfectly captured this sentiment and the need for modernizing privacy laws in her concurring opinion in United States v. Jones, a 2011 case dealing with GPS tracking. Sotomayor argued a comprehensive re-write of our nation’s privacy laws; arguing quite correctly that the current approach “is ill suited to the digital age, in which people reveal a great deal of information about themselves to third parties in the course of carrying out mundane tasks.”

Rather than scrap the FCC ruling, and in turn one of the few positive steps for personal privacy in the modern era, Republicans should have seized the opportunity for the first true attempt to bring privacy laws into the 21st Century. It would have been a major victory for the GOP, demonstrating a vision for constitutional leadership that heretofore has been noticeably absent. Instead, congressional Republicans took yet another shortcut, putting off the hard work behind meaningful, comprehensive reform for another day that is likely never to come.

The missed opportunity is a reminder of Winston Churchill’s observation that, “men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.” Congress acts in much the same way — stumbling on opportunities for real change, but hurrying along before any real work is required of them. This is why advocates of privacy reform such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and other like-minded groups must start applying serious pressure on the Congress – and continue applying pressure – in a concerted effort to force Congress to challenge the powerful lobbying arm of Silicon Valley and other vested interests. Privacy advocates must be prepared also to challenge federal law enforcement agencies on this matter; agencies that prefer to keep the laws and regulations under which they operate as vague and outdated as possible, in order to offer them maximum room to maneuver.

Left to its own devices, the Congress will do what it excels at — kicking the can down the road.

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net-neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission met in February to vote on the highly controversial Net Neutrality plan. A plan for the FCC created with the Obama administration.

On a 3-2 vote, despite stating that broadband providers are not allowed their free speech rights, the law was passed and went into effect in June. But, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (the nation’s second most powerful court) will hear arguments on the law this December.

Critics of Net Neutrality say it gives the government the power to highly regulate content online. It could restrict websites like the Drudge Report or Fox News.

Even FCC commissioner Ajit Pai, one of the two that voted against the net neutrality rules, said in March that it gives the government to regulate content like the Drudge Report.

“It is conceivable to me to see the government saying, ‘We think the Drudge Report is having a disproportionate effect on our political discourse,” Pai paints a disturbing picture.

This isn’t a conspiracy theory. Do you remember the fairness doctrine that gave the power to determine if broadcasters were being “fair” when reporting on both sides of an issue?

Net Neutrality doesn’t only give government the ability to possibly exploit the rules, but it could mean paying for services that you got once for free.

There is not denying the Internet is a collection of free thought. For some, it is the only place they can be free, but things are changing. Any attempt to limit the freedom of the Internet should be stopped at all costs.

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counting-money

The ink is barely dry on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) “Net Neutrality” takeover of the Internet and the first of many predictions about government control appear to be coming true.

As FCC commissioner Ajit Pai warned before FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s Internet power grab became “law”, bureaucrats within the FCC have been loosed on the Internet.

Their mission… their goal… their reason for being is to dream up new ways to break the rich Internet piñata and shake loose billions of dollars in new taxes and fees to fund “free” Internet access for favored Democrat constituencies, redistribute wealth and provide the FCC with the resources it needs to do both.

During a recent appearance on Newsmax TV and punctuated in an interview on radio’s “The Steve Malzberg Show”, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai revealed that:

“The president said…on WhiteHouse.gov, this is my plan and I’m asking the FCC to implement it. On the day the FCC took the vote on Feb. 26, the Democratic National Committee put out a tweet saying, Hooray! The FCC has approved President Obama’s plan.”

“Now, you cannot square those two statements from those two entities with the notion that the FCC was acting independently” Pai said. “The position I’ve taken is that this was a break from our traditional position as an independent agency.”

“Even if the president’s opinion was one among many, nonetheless, it’s hard to argue that his opinion was equal. Certainly, some opinions in this process were more equal than others.”

Stretching incredulity, Chairman Wheeler (appointed by President Barack Obama) testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform this past Tuesday that:

“I would like to be clear: There were no secret instructions from the White House. I did not, as CEO of an independent agency, feel obligated to follow the president’s recommendation.”

Expressing understanding but not approval, Commissioner Pai said:

“I have some sympathy for the chairman’s position having proposed something in May, having tried out an alternative in the summer, just to get blindsided in November by the president and ultimately having to buckle. It doesn’t speak well for the agency when we have these political considerations that are placed on us.”

With respect to new taxes and fees on Internet service, Pai said:

“They’re going to be a number of different effects over the coming months and years … Most immediately what is going to happen is that the FCC has now explicitly opened the door to an increase in the tax that is going to be placed on broadband.”

“I would imagine in the next month or two we’re going to see for the first time taxes placed on broadband bills. Your bill is going to go up. In the longer term, some of the more incidental effects are going to be a reduction to the amount of competition. Some of the smaller Internet service providers are going to find it more difficult to stay in.”

That’s not all.

The rising cost of Internet use under FCC control will not stop with government imposed taxes and fees. These costs to consumers will be dwarfed by the states who are chomping at the bit to collect sales taxes Internet purchases.

Brick and mortar stores have long complained that consumers visit retail stores to “touch and feel” products only to go home and buy them on the Internet – sidestepping state and local sales taxes that could make purchases cost prohibitive.

Republican lawmakers are busy crafting legislation to nullify Chairman Wheeler’s “Net Neutrality” Internet power grab but the legislation will likely face a veto if it makes its’ way to President Obama’s desk.

In the meantime, Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) will have to settle for legal action and hoped for court injunctions to stop FCC control of the Internet from taking effect – resources that will not be available to innovate, invent and invest in new Internet technologies.

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killing-internet

February 26, 2015 might very well go down in history as the day the Obama White House killed the Internet.

In a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission decided to radically change the way they regulate the Internet, by declaring it to be a public utility akin to the phone system. The decision was strictly along party lines: the two Republican-appointed FCC commissioners voted no, while FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and two other commissioners, all appointed by Democrats, voted to move forward.

Under these new regulations, which have yet to be released to the public in their entirety, Internet providers will be classified as Title II Telecommunications Services–a substantial change that will put stringent limits on an Internet service provider’s ability to control content delivery.

This decision comes after President Barack Obama made a personal appeal to the FCC, calling for the agency to implement these sweeping, draconian rules that will tightly regulate the Internet. Such a statement from a President is, for lack of a better term, bizarre–it’s exceedingly rare for a President to blatantly try to influence an independent regulatory agency.

Before Obama’s appeal, Chairman Wheeler was considering a more moderate approach–a possible response to the more than 700,000 petition signatures opposing these rules that the FCC received from activist groups like American Commitment last August. But after pressure from Obama, Wheeler fell into line and agreed to move forward with more restrictive rules.

The new regulations will have a tremendous impact on consumers.

Since the Internet’s creation, it’s been largely unregulated by the U.S. Government. The FCC’s decision will create a stranglehold on innovation, by routing new ideas and new methods through a federal bureaucracy. It’ll also put more power into the hands of corporate content providers, like Netflix and YouTube.

Luckily, these new rules are likely to be challenged in court–but, for now, the Obama White House’s unprecedented attack on online freedom poses a serious risk to the Internet as we know it.

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