Here break we off our sundry languages

January 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

here-break-210114

Brian Fung: The D.C. Circuit court has struck down net neutrality. What does that mean for consumers [citizens]?

Tim Wu: It leaves the Internet in completely uncharted territory. There’s never been a situation where providers can block whatever they want. For example, it means AT&T can block people from reaching T-Mobile’s customer service site if it wanted. They can do whatever they want.

Think of the, er, Intertubes as a water supply system, and the Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time-Warner (obscenely profitable) regional monopolies as utilities. Up until the Court’s ruling Tuesday, they own the pipes, and water’s water; you get charged the same price for water no matter where it comes from; it’s all equally treated. What these guys want to do is leverage their control over the pipes to sell you different kinds of water; “innovative” water from a branded faucet, if you will. Does that make sense? Thought not. As PC News puts it:

Imagine if we did the same with electricity. Rich neighborhoods and lucrative businesses pay more for electricity, so they get 24/7 juice. The rest of us? You have a second-tier service, so you can run electricity from 5-8 a.m. and then 7-11 p.m. Think that’s far-fetched? Ask anyone from Ukraine how their government distributes heat.

The problem here is that the FCC set itself up for failure — or, depending on your level of cynicism realism, for success — by the way it wrote its rules and argued its case. (David Pogue’s new) Yahoo Tech:

[T]he tough thing for Internet users is that the court’s opinion of the Federal Communications Commission’s rules isn’t wrong. The FCC’s rules were weak.

The 63-page ruling by judges David S. Tatel, Laurence H. Silberman and Judith W. Rogers for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that because the FCC declined to classify broadband providers the way you probably think of them — as “common carriers” that deliver information without interference, as the phone companies are considered — it can’t impose common-carrier-style regulations through other means:

The FCC itself queued up this collapse back in 2002, when it chose to classify cable Internet providers not as “telecommunications services” but as “information services,” then repeated the mistake in 2005 when it put phone-based broadband under the same category.

What’s the difference? The FCC says a telecommunications service “is used to deliver information without change in the form or content of the information,” while an “information service” consists of “applications that run over the ‘pipes’ of a communications network and depend on computers to generate, store, or process information.”

The Verge agrees:

[T]he FCC made what would turn out to be a pivotal mistake. Instead of stating the blindingly obvious — internet service is a utility just like landline phone service — the FCC tried to appease the out-of-control corporate egos of behemoths like Verizon and Comcast by pretending internet providers were special and classifying them as “information service providers” and not “telecommunications carriers.”  The wrong words. Then, once everyone was wearing the nametag they wanted, the FCC tried to impose common carrier-style telecommunications regulations on them anyway.

The entire American internet experience is now at risk of turning into a walled garden of corporate control because the FCC chickened out and picked the wrong words in 2002, and the court called them on it twice over.

So, c’mon. Everybody knows that Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Time-Warner aren’t “information services.” They’re not selling innovative water from a branded faucet; water’s water and they’re selling it from their pipes. Period. So treat them like common carriers or public utilities they are.  read more

PHOTOGRAPH: Mike Goldby

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