The news this morning seemed gloomy, and frankly, confusing. The New York Times was reporting that Google and Verizon had come to a deal wherein Google would pay Big Red carriage fees to ensure preferential treatment on Verizon's broadband network. A move like this could conceivably lead to more fees on users for accessing certain content online. This is completely counter to the principals of net neutrality that Google has long espoused. If true, this would have been a huge blow to net neutrality.
Just a few hours later Google's public policy Twitter account tried to clear things up saying the New York Times story is just wrong. Later in the day Google was on the offensive telling the Guardian, " The New York Times is quite simply wrong. We have not had any conversations with Verizon about paying for carriage of Google traffic. We remain as committed as we always have been to an open internet." Verizon also issued a statement saying the reports are mistaken.
So what do you believe? Are these accusations from the Times and others based on some actual facts of the Google/Verizon relationship that we are not aware of?
The FCC headed by Julius Genachowski has made it clear that Net Neutrality is a top priority. So much so that they intend to boost their authority in order to impose rules on all purveyors of IP data. Both AT&T and Verizon have voiced concern with the prospect of being weighed down by new regulations. The two are now pushing for Congress to intervene and come up with Net Neutrality compromise legislation.
The principal of Net Neutrality holds that an ISP should be required to treat all data in exactly the same way. For instance, an ISP could not filter torrent traffic and delay/ block it. By asking Congress to head the FCC off at the pass, the telecoms are hoping they can lobby their way to weaker regulations.
We're concerned that any congressional action would rules would likely be filled with loopholes enabling ISPs to continue non-neutral practices. Do you think the FCC should move ahead with making rules, or should the legislative branch tackle it?
As FCC chair Genachowski moves toward an announcement on future broadband regulations, sources are indicating that he is leaning toward keeping the current system mostly intact. The turnaround comes in the wake of the recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision that the FCC overstepped its autority when it fined Comcast in 2008 for throttling torrent traffic. There were rumors that the FCC would attempt to reclassify broadband providers giving them more regulatory powers, but that course of action has apparently been ruled out.
Instead of an overhaul in regulation, only minor changes would be made. The exact policies were not detailed, but the goal would be to ensure the FCC has some roll in future policy discussions. The whole issue has left the FCC's net neutrality plans up in the air. It is unclear if they will have the clout to push many changes in the current climate.
Where should the FCC go from here? Is it just time to pack it in and get ready for more traffic shaping?
A federal appeals court today ruled that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not have the legal authority to impose strict net neutrality regulations and require ISPs to give equal treatment to all Internet traffic.
Perhaps no one is happier about the ruling than Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, who challenged the FCC's authority to impose net neutrality rules in the first place. And no one is likely more disappointed than current FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, who last October announced plans to begin drafting a formal set of net neutrality rules, despite the fact that Congress hadn't given the agency permission to do so.
There are a lot of implications to the ruling, including what will become of the ginormous national broadband plan the FCC released last month. Some of the initiatives written in the plan would require clear authority to regulate broadband, such as a proposal to expand broadband by tapping into the federal fund that subsidizes telephone service in poor and rural communities, the New York Times reports.
Last week we reported that Google's China talks may soon be coming to a close, and CEO Eric Schmidt even hinted to reporters at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit that "something would be happening soon". Well, if you believe the Financial Times, Google is about 99.9% sure it is going to pull the plug on China. Wired.com attempted to contact a Google spokesman for a comment, however they would neither confirm or deny the report. According to the Times, Google has drawn up a detailed plans for how it will exit the Chinese market, and is poised to execute.
If Google does pull out of China, the action plan is no doubt intended to protect local employees from retaliation by authorities. It is still unknown if they intend to push ahead with their plans to un-filter Google.cn, but Chinese authorities made a very stern and public warning to the company on Friday. "If you don't respect Chinese laws, you are unfriendly and irresponsible, and the consequences will be on you," said China's Minister of Industry and Information Technology, Li Yizhong.
According to the Financial Times Google is exploring every option to keep its Chinese businesses afloat, but is wary of the backlash from authorities which may make this all but impossible. "It's very important to know we are not pulling out of China," Eric Schmidt, Google's chief executive, told the Financial Times at the time. "We have a good business in China. This is about the censorship rules, not anything else."
Google CEO Eric Schmidt has hinted that the company's negotiations with the Chinese government may be drawing to a close. The parleys began in January after the search engine giant announced it was no longer willing to censor its search results in China.
Eric Schmidt told reporters at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit that “something will happen soon.” However, Google has chosen to remain mum until it concludes negotiations with the Chinese. Schmidt also revealed that the company is working alone on resolving this issue and hasn't “coordinated with the U.S. government except post-facto.”
But the company does want the U.S government to take a strong stand against internet censorship. "Internet censorship is a growing global problem that not only raises important human rights concerns, but also creates significant barriers for U.S. companies doing business abroad," Google's deputy general counsel, Nicole Wong, told a congressional hearing Wednesday.
The FCC has formally issued their draft net neutrality rules, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is calling foul. The document contains language covering so-called “reasonable network management”. According to the EFF, this creates a loophole that would allow ISPs to block BitTorrent.
The net neutrality debate really took off when in 2007, Comcast began blocking BitTorrent connections. Eventually the FCC forced them to stop, but Comcast is still appealing the decision. This copyright loophole in the draft could be used by content producers to encourage ISPs to enforce copyright law. In fact, the EFF claims the exact behavior that got Comcast in hot water, and kicked off the debate could be perfectly acceptable under the proposed regulations.
It may not be feasible for the FCC to be intimately involved in every aspect of an ISP’s network management. What’s the solution? Can they just require protocol agnostic management?
The RIAA, which represents the recording industry, was born out of frustration and anger over the loss of control of content. It’s not, to put it simply, a happy camper, and probably never will. Anything and everything the RIAA perceives as bad for the recording industry is something else for the RIAA to rail against, no matter how good that something might be for the rest of us. The RIAA is now on the warpath against net neutrality. It seems that net neutrality limits the ability of ISPs to act as its brownshirts in the RIAA's war against file sharing. So net neutrality, according to the RIAA, has gotta go.
In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the RIAA is arguing that the adoption of strict net neutrality rules will limit the ability of ISPs to flexibly address illegal online file sharing. According to the RIAA, “ISPs are in a unique position to limit online theft. They control the facilities over which infringement takes place and are singularly positioned to address it at the source. Without ISP participation, it is extremely difficult to develop an effective prevention approach.”
It seems the RIAA has given up trying to sue the pants of everybody who shares files and wants ISPs to now do their dirty work. But net neutrality makes this impossible. ISPs would be limited in blocking illegal file sharing, which the RIAA wants ISPs to be actively encouraged to do.
Some large ISPs are not too keen on becoming the lapdog of the RIAA. They’ve already rejected the RIAA’s request to disconnect subscribers after three copyright violations. Rather than pander after the ISPs, the RIAA is looking to have the FCC compel the ISPs to fall into line, and police their networks for illegal file sharing.
There are others, such as Public Knowledge, the Consumer Electronics Association, and the Electric Frontier Foundation, who are opposed to the RIAA’s position. They say the FCC should keep its nose out of copyright enforcement, and so too should ISPs. Snooping or limiting service interferes with legitimate, and legal, network activity. According to them ISPs are "poorly placed to determine whether or not transfers of content are infringing or otherwise unlawful, a task generally reserved to attorneys, courts, and law enforcement.” In other words, let the RIAA do its own dirty work.
Remember when Comcast was sanctioned by the FCC for throttling BitTorrent? Well, they’re still in court trying to get that overturned, but at the same time they’re making some noise about the whole issue of Net Neutrality. On the face of it, their position sounds downright reasonable. Comcast is pushing for “clear rules” for Net Neutrality from the FCC.
The internet giant is apparently worried that the all but inevitable regulations pushed by FCC Chair Genachowski could end up being overly broad and confusing. Comcast says that they were completely surprised that fiddling with users’ BitTorrent connections and lying about it would be frowned upon. They just want to avoid that sort of embarrassing incident in the future.
Comcast also spoke disapprovingly of the tone of debate saying, “It’s truly sad that the debate around “net neutrality,” or the need to regulate to “preserve an open Internet,” has been filled with so much rhetoric, vituperation, and confusion.” There seems to be a bit of a disconnect here, considering a lot of that rhetoric comes from the ISPs. It could be that Comcast is just trying to save face as it becomes clear Net Neutrality will move forward.
The issue is pretty simple. In 2008 Comcast secretly slowed down access to peer-to-peer data sharing sites, which it’s not supposed to do. Then, to compound it’s error, it lied to the press and consumers about what it was doing. The FCC stepped in and gave Comcast a stern talking to, and required Comcast to write on the chalkboard a hundred times: “I will not engage in discriminatory practices.” Minor punishment, really.
But it didn’t sit well with Comcast, which filed suit against the FCC in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. Basically, Comcast is arguing that the FCC doesn’t have the legislative authority to regulate Comcast’s behavior, and therefore the FCC’s ruling is unenforceable and should be thrown out. What the FCC did, according to Comcast, was to enforce policy, not regulation or law. And policy doesn’t count.
The FCC counters it does have legislative authority, under the Communications Act of 1934 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and Congress did grant it authority over cable companies. The FCC also pointed out that Comcast, when approved by the FCC to acquire another cable company, was specifically warned it would be held to terms of the policy in question: the FCC’s Internet Policy Principles. The FCC wrote in its court brief: “Comcast ignored that crystal clear warning. It cannot seriously claim to be surprised by the consequences.”