Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Net Neutrality

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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to the American people a true repeal and replacement for Obamacare – rather than the Rube-Goldberg plan that neither repealed the underlying law nor replaced it with comprehensive, market-base provisions.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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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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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, 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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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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With the Federal Communication’s Commission close to their decision on Net Neutrality, the public comment period has now closed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) on a proposed rule that would limit online speech.

The proposed rules would categorize the work of bloggers, YouTubers and basically anyone with an online voice as a political contribution.

How the FEC plans to collect that data and determine a hard value is unclear.

The free-market organization, Our Generation, submitted public comments by the January 15th deadline opposing rules that ultimately apply more regulation to the Internet.

The organization stated in its comments:

“Our Generation asserts that the Internet should continue to remain a robust and vibrant space for political discussion and in its comments urged the Commission to continue to take a ‘hands off approach.’ Any rules the Commission promulgates must respect the First Amendment and not infringe upon the rights of citizens to engage in constitutionally protected speech.”

In the wake of the Citizens United and McCutcheon Supreme Court rulings, democrats have expressed outrage of their inability to stop the “tsunami of ‘dark money’” flowing into politics.

In October of 2014, Jon Bonifaz, the president of a left-leaning advocacy group expressed his frustration:

“Now, this decision by the majority of the commission only exacerbates the threat posed by the Citizens United ruling. It does nothing to address the real need for disclosure of this dark money that is now coming into our elections in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

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Obama Plane

In an escalating war of words between the White House and Republican leaders in Congress, the president’s advisors asserted Thursday that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) already has the power to regulate the Internet as a utility and that Congress would play no role in net neutrality debate.

The issue comes down to executive overreach and the meaning of words being used by both sides in the struggle keeps the Internet free of government regulation.

One definition of net neutrality used by the White House would define the Internet as a utility with all the regulatory control that means including taxation, fees, easements and all of the other costs that consumers currently see on their phone and cable bills.

The other definition used by Congress would to be reflected in law.

The legislation now working its way through Congress would prevent the FCC from regulating the Internet as a utility while placing certain standards on internet service providers that proponents say will address White House concerns over fair access to the Internet especially in rural areas and poor inner-city consumers.

Senator John Thune (R-SD) and Representative Fred Upton, chairmen of the Commerce Committees in their respective chambers, are circulating legislation to reflect “net neutral” principles on broadband providers including bans on throttled connection speeds, blocking websites and the fees and taxes imagined in the president’s plan.

Republicans have asked for a delay in FCC action on the issue now planned for Feb. 26 but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has indicated no interest in such a change. In a statement released by FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart:

“Chairman Wheeler believes it is important to move forward as quickly as possible to protect consumers, innovation and competition online.”

This statement in odd in one respect.

During last year’s public comment period on proposed regulation of the Internet by the FCC, the public interest group American Commitment with Liberty News Now and Citizen Action generated more than 700,000 unique public comments opposing the FCC plan – the largest number of public comments ever sent to a regulatory agency over any other issue in history.

The question then is this. Which consumers is Chairman Wheeler trying to protect?

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Net Neutrality

In September of 2014, hundreds of thousands of Americans took part in the “Battle for the Net” and stood their ground to Stop Internet Regulation.

Liberty News Now, Citizen Action and American Commitment . . . and those Americans . . . won the battle.

Over 800,000 comments were submitted to the Federal Communications Commission opposing Net Neutrality.

The opposition, which represented over FORTY THOUSAND organizations, submitted almost as many, but came up short.

We took on giants like Netflix, Meetup, Tumblr and the ACLU and according to a report by the Sunlight Foundation, we “dominated” the comment period.

While our opposition came up with the confusing name “Net Neutrality” we understood that means “government regulation” and we chose to stick with what we have.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the commission will make a decision in February.

No further comments were called for . . . that’s a good sign.

But the public still does not understand the issue.

One comical (or not) commenter in a Washington Post article summed up the position with clarity when responding to a Net Neutrality supporter:

ThanksForTheFish: Have you seen what Comcast wants to do to the Internet? They WILL nickel and dime the Internet to death.

Jack Foobar: Yea, but they won’t arrest you and shoot you in the face when you blog about Dear Leader. There’s a big difference between inconvenience (choosing another provider/moving) and being dead.

Yes, that’s an extreme response but the reality is we don’t know how far the government will take regulation of the Internet.

While we can all hope that no “face shootin” occurs anytime soon, we do know from very recent history that the government will use information against others for political reasons . . . just recall the IRS’s TEA Party discrimination, Hillary Clinton’s Filegate, etc.

By passing Net Neutrality, a green light is being given to the government that will eventually make the Internet look like a North Korean border crossing.

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Net Neutrality

Commenters on the popular forum Reddit were left shocked after the release of a study by the Sunlight Foundation proving that one group, American Commitment, was able to organize nearly 800,000 public comments to the Federal Communications Commission opposing regulation of the Internet.

Reddit was an official participant in the “Battle for the Net” which supported Internet regulation.

Reddit fans, known for their mob mentality were quick to question the report despite the facts presented in the report.

One Redditter, K7Avender, commented, “How could they by themselves have gotten more comments than the popular social medias combined? How could there be more comments by people who don’t understand the internet—who barely use the internet—than comments by people who do understand the internet and who use it the most?”

Another comment of the 1,300+ on this single thread piled on the stereotype that the people opposed Net Neutrality are essentially luddites:

“You don’t need bots when you can use a few well chosen trigger words to mobilize an army of the ill-informed. They may not know much of anything about the internet, but they sure as hell don’t want ‘Obama to regulate and tax it.’”

As the comments scrolled on, one post by KBassma made it clear why Reddit fans are so passionate about the issue, “I am only as smart and as well read as I am because of the internet. If I lose it I lose myself.”


In reading through just a portion of the 1,300 posts, a dominant theme began to form.

The supporters of Net Neutrality on Reddit have no clue what they’re talking about.

Some claim that censorship will be increased if the government DOESN’T take control of the Internet. Huh?

Others cite the well known “fast lane” argument yet would prefer advancement of Internet technology be left for the approval of government bureaucrats.

Few Reddit users can come to the simple realization that restricting the Internet under telecom regulations from the 1930’s may actually harm their ability to watch cat videos on YouTube.

In the event that President Obama is able to ram through Net Neutrality, Americans can expect innovation and advances of broadband delivery to come to a screeching halt.

Under the same Title II regulations that the President is pushing for the Internet, Caller ID took seven years to approve.

Would the left-leaning lovers of the Internet have accepted a seven-year delay to incorporate voice chat into their World of Warcraft sessions?

While many Reddit users enjoy using their time to whine amongst themselves in between eating Cheetos in their mother’s basement and producing low-quality cat videos, they should take time to educate themselves on this debate before they have a hand in destroying the thing they love the most.

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Lost Battle for the Net

On Tuesday, the Sunlight Foundation released its study of the public’s response to proposed Net Neutrality rules, also known as Internet Regulation.

Earlier this month, President Obama directly addressed the issue claiming that “the public has already commented nearly four million times” supporting the reclassification of the Internet as a “public utility.”

As it turns out, the President, and the Federal Communication Commission got the facts totally wrong.

For background, the FCC conducted two comment periods in which the public was asked to weigh in on the issue.

The first round resulted in 800,959 comments being submitted to the FCC.

Analysis by the Sunlight Foundation concluded that 99% of those comments were in favor of regulating the Internet and 60% of the comments were submitted through form letters.

In September of this year, the FCC conducted a second round of public comments.

Those in favor of allowing the government to take authority over the Internet led a campaign called the “Battle for the Net.”

The campaign was by all descriptions, massive, with over 40,000 organizations participating in the drive.

Some of the biggest online players signed on to promote the campaign including Netflix, Foursquare, Kickstarter, Reddit, Tumblr and Vimeo.

The 40,000 sites that participated, including the White House, placed a fake “buffering” widget on their sites as a scare tactic implying the Internet would be slowed to a crawl if the government was not able to regulate the Web.

The scare tactic led to hundreds of thousands of people sending comments to the FCC in favor of Internet Regulation.

The content providers and left-leaning organizations favoring Internet Regulation assumed that since they won “Round 1” with 99% support, they could handily shut the door on the matter in “Round 2.”

They were wrong.

In the Sunlight Foundation’s report released yesterday, the headline read, “One group dominates the second round of net neutrality comments.”

This “dominating” group is the seemingly small policy organization, American Commitment, led by free-market policy analyst Phil Kerpen.

While 1.4 million comments were submitted to the FCC in the second round of comments, 60% of the comments actually opposed Internet Regulation.

Nearly all of those comments, 56.5% of all comments submitted, were gathered through the efforts of American Commitment.

Note that this site, Liberty News Now, was a partner in the “Stop Internet Regulation” campaign.

The President’s comments were premature and delivered before the votes were counted and duplicates removed.

In the end, the majority of readers of Liberty News Now along with hundreds of thousands of others, when presented with the clear facts about Internet Regulation, chose against the new rules.

In total, the verified comments submitted by American Commitment totaled 728,000.

The backers of the “Battle for the Net” underestimated the organizing power of Phil Kerpen and the sentiment of the public.

Now that the facts are out, will President Obama correct the record?

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“’Net Neutrality’ is Obamacare for the Internet.” With this single phrase, Senator Ted Cruz has sparked one of the most heated debates about the future of the Internet since the Federal Communications Commission first released its Open Internet Order in 2010.

Proponents of the cleverly-named proposal known as “Net Neutrality” argue government regulation is needed in order to keep the Internet open and free, by preventing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from establishing “Internet fast lanes” at premium costs. Opponents, including Cruz and many Internet experts, argue that opening the door to government regulation of ISPs in this way will stifle innovation, increase costs, and ultimately hurt consumers.

With some of the worst consumer satisfaction ratings nationwide, cable companies and ISPs seems to have gone out of their way to reinforce public perception that they care little about customer satisfaction and quality of service. This helps make Net Neutrality an easy sell to the public; advocates prey upon the fears and emotions of consumers — greedy ISP providers throttling internet access for more profit — then salves those fears with the siren song of government regulation.

However, this should not overshadow what we know for certain about government promises of protection; and it must not blind us to what Net Neutrality truly is: a 21st Century Trojan Horse filled with federal bureaucrats itching to control the single most powerful tool of the modern age — a free and unfettered Internet.

Net Neutrality is not some sort of trophy representing triumph over greedy cable and Internet companies. Rather, it is a sham promise by Obama to get inside the city gates. The real purpose is to mask what follows; just as the citizens of Troy discovered shortly after opening their city to what they mistakenly saw as a gift.

This is not the first time such a tactic has been used to massively expand the power of the federal government under the guise of protecting the public. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the also cleverly-named USA PATRIOT Act was sold as a way to protect citizens from terrorism; several years later, the Dodd-Frank Act was sold as consumer protection against Wall Street fraud; and, in the granddaddy of all federal panaceas, ObamaCare was sold as a plan to fix America’s healthcare system.

Not surprisingly, in none of these instances of federal “reform” did the promised manna fall from the heavens; and in every case, the supposedly “narrowly tailored” powers were expanded dramatically to sustain the government’s inevitable and insatiable appetite for control.

A similar fate is on the horizon for the Internet if Obama gets his way to implement “Net Neutrality.”

Departing from a long-standing tradition of “light-touch” regulation that has given ISPs the latitude to innovate and expand, Obama now wants the FCC to reclassify the Internet to bring it under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. This regulatory regimen would strap ISPs with common-carrier regulations first drafted eight decades ago, and which are woefully inapplicable to either the technology or the markets of this early 21st Century.

It may seem counterintuitive to discuss deregulating an industry dominated by a small number of ISPs; but less regulation, not more of it, is the only way to bring about long-term changes in the industry without seriously the jeopardizing innovation and improvement that has made the Internet a super highway for economic and political freedom.

This phenomenon can be seen elsewhere. For decades, taxi cartels enjoyed an unchallenged monopoly on transportation services because they worked hand-in-hand with government regulators to keep out competition. It was only with the arrival of Uber and similar ride-sharing services that the paradigm finally began to shift in favor of the free market and the consumer.

Cable companies like Cox, Comcast, and others enjoy similar monopolies in local markets. However, as Erik Telford, senior vice president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, notes, this is not the work of greedy capitalists, but of regulatory corruption. “Cable companies may hold local monopolies,”writes Telford, “but local governments and public utility commissions dictate this lack of competition through sweetheart deals designed to line the pockets of the city at the consumer’s expense.”

Giving more regulatory control to the government in the form of Net Neutrality will do nothing to address this problem. Rather, such a move will simply reinforce the cycle of “regulatory capture” that greases the skids for ever-increasing government control that limits options for all of us.

That Obama is attempting to effect such a far-reaching plan on his own, without the concurrence of Congress, should surprise no one; this President’s unshakeable arrogance makes such a course his default position. But the Republican House can stop him even before the new and also GOP-led Senate is sworn in next January. They can include an appropriations rider in the almost-certain omnibus reconciliation bill that prohibits any monies from being spent to implement Obama’s Net Neutrality. If that fails, they must do so as a first order of business in the new Congress. If they do not, the future of Internet freedom will become markedly less so.


Listening to liberal college administrators waxing poetic from their ivory towers, one might conclude the greatest threat to higher education is not helicopter parents...