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Net Neutrality Advocates Ready Fight   12/14 06:18

   As the federal government prepares to unravel sweeping net-neutrality rules 
that guaranteed equal access to the internet, advocates of the regulations are 
bracing for a long fight.

   NEW YORK (AP) -- As the federal government prepares to unravel sweeping 
net-neutrality rules that guaranteed equal access to the internet, advocates of 
the regulations are bracing for a long fight.

   The Thursday vote scheduled at the Federal Communications Commission could 
usher in big changes in how Americans use the internet, a radical departure 
from more than a decade of federal oversight. The proposal would not only roll 
back restrictions that keep broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T 
from blocking or collecting tolls from services they don't like, it would bar 
states from imposing their own rules.

   The broadband industry promises that the internet experience isn't going to 
change, but its companies have lobbied hard to overturn these rules. Protests 
have erupted online and in the streets as everyday Americans worry that cable 
and phone companies will be able to control what they see and do online.

   That growing public movement suggests that the FCC vote won't be the end of 
the issue. Opponents of the move plan legal challenges, and some net-neutrality 
supporters hope to ride that wave of public opinion into the 2018 elections.

   CONCERN ABOUT THE FCC PLAN

   FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says his plan eliminates unnecessary regulation that 
stood in the way of connecting more Americans to the internet. Under his 
proposal, the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world will be free to block rival apps, 
slow down competing service or offer faster speeds to companies who pay up. 
They just have to post their policies online or tell the FCC.

   The change also axes consumer protections, bars state laws that contradict 
the FCC's approach, and largely transfers oversight of internet service to 
another agency, the Federal Trade Commission.

   After the FCC released its plan in late November, well-known telecom and 
media analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson wrote in a note to investors 
that the FCC plan dismantles "virtually all of the important tenets of net 
neutrality itself."

   That could result in phone and cable companies forcing people to pay more to 
do what they want online. The technology community, meanwhile, fears that 
additional online tolls could hurt startups who can't afford to pay them --- 
and, over the long term, diminish innovation.

   "We're a small company. We're about 40 people. We don't have the deep 
pockets of Google, Netflix, Amazon to just pay off ISPs to make sure consumers 
can access our service," said Andrew McCollum, CEO of streaming-TV service 
Philo.

   TRUST YOUR INTERNET SERVICE PROVIDER

   Broadband providers pooh-pooh what they characterize as misinformation and 
irrational fears. "I genuinely look forward to the weeks, months, years ahead 
when none of the fire and brimstone predictions comes to pass," said Jonathan 
Spalter, head of the trade group USTelecom, on a call with reporters Wednesday.

   But some of these companies have suggested they could charge some internet 
services more to reach customers, saying it could allow for better delivery of 
new services like telemedicine. Comcast said Wednesday it has no plans for such 
agreements.

   Cable and mobile providers have also been less scrupulous in the past. In 
2007, for example, the Associated Press found Comcast was blocking or 
throttling some file-sharing. AT&T blocked Skype and other internet calling 
services on the iPhone until 2009. They also aren't backing away from subtler 
forms of discrimination that favor their own services.

   There's also a problem with the FCC's plan to leave most complaints about 
deceptive behavior and privacy to the FTC. A pending court case could leave the 
FTC without the legal authority to oversee most big broadband providers. That 
could leave both agencies hamstrung if broadband companies hurt their customers 
or competitors.

   Critics like Democratic FTC commissioner Terrell McSweeny argue that the FTC 
won't be as effective in policing broadband companies as the FCC, which has 
expertise in the issue and has the ability to lay down hard-and-fast rules 
against certain practices.

   PUBLIC OUTCRY

   Moffett and Nathanson, the analysts, said that they suspect the latest FCC 
rules to be short-lived. "These changes will likely be so immensely unpopular 
that it would be shocking if they are allowed to stand for long," they wrote.

   There have been hundreds of public protests against Pai's plan and more than 
1 million calls to Congress through a pro-net neutrality coalition's site. 
Smaller tech websites such as Reddit, Kickstarter and Mozilla put dramatic 
overlays on their sites Tuesday in support of net neutrality. Twitter on 
Wednesday was promoting #NetNeutrality as a trending topic. Other big tech 
companies were more muted in their support.

   Public-interest groups Free Press and Public Knowledge are already promising 
to go after Pai's rules in the courts. There may also be attempts to legislate 
net neutrality rules, which the telecom industry supports. Sen. John Thune, a 
South Dakota Republican, on Tuesday called for "bipartisan legislation" on net 
neutrality that would "enshrine protections for consumers with the backing of 
law."

   But that will be tough going. Democrats criticized previous Republican 
attempts at legislation during the Obama administration for gutting the FCC's 
enforcement abilities. Republicans would likely be interested in proposing even 
weaker legislation now, and Democrats are unlikely to support it if so.

   Some Democrats prefer litigation and want to use Republican opposition to 
net neutrality as a campaign issue in 2018. "Down the road Congress could act 
to put in place new rules, but with Republicans in charge of the House, Senate, 
and White House the likelihood of strong enforceable rules are small," Rep. 
Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, wrote on Reddit last week. "Maybe after 
the 2018 elections, we will be in a stronger position to get that done."

   A future FCC could also rewrite net-neutrality regulation to be tougher on 
the phone and cable industry. That could bring a whole new cycle of litigation 
by broadband companies.


(KA)

 
 
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