Net Neutrality Repeal Already Harming Public, Former FCC Chief Argues

The Federal Communications Commission's repeal of the Obama-era net neutrality rules is already harming the public, former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler will suggest Thursday in Congressional testimony.

When the FCC made its made the controversial decision to revoke net neutrality, it also transferred oversight over broadband providers to a different agency -- the Federal Trade Commission. But the FTC isn't equipped to police broadband providers, Wheeler will argue.

 “The FTC is a fine agency, but ... it lacks the resources and rulemaking authority, and it also lacks the engineering expertise required for dealing with internet service providers.” he will testify to a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce committee.

“Because of the decision by the Trump FCC to walk away from its responsibilities, when California firefighters couldn't use their mobile phones during the Mendocino Complex fire, they could not turn to the FCC for help,” he will tell lawmakers. “When researchers discovered that mobile carriers were throttling streaming services -- something the carriers had promised not to do -- the agency that should be responsible for the nation’s networks did nothing."

When Wheeler led the FCC during the Obama administration, the agency imposed some common carrier rules on broadband carriers, including rules prohibiting blocking or throttling and charging higher fees for prioritized delivery of content.

Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who opposed those rules, shepherded their recent repeal.

Since then, broadband providers have faced criticism over their practices on several occasions. In one well-publicized example, Verizon throttled firefighters as they attempted to combat blazes in Mendocino.

Also, researchers at Northeastern University, University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Stony Brook University reported last year that the major wireless carriers were slowing streaming video traffic.

Thursday's hearing -- the first related to net neutrality since Democrats regained control of the House -- is part of an initiative by Congressional leaders to closely scrutinize the FCC. Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey), who leads the Energy and Commerce committee, and Mike Doyle (D-Pennsylvania) chairman of the Communications and Technology subcommittee, recently criticized FCC chairman Ajit Pai for being “unresponsive” to oversight requests.

“Not only have you have failed on numerous occasions to provide Democratic members of this Committee with responses to their inquiries, you have also repeatedly denied or delayed responding to legitimate information requests from the public about agency operations,” the lawmakers wrote to Pai Friday. “Under your leadership, the FCC has failed repeatedly to act in the public interest and placed the interest of corporations over consumers.”

1 comment about "Net Neutrality Repeal Already Harming Public, Former FCC Chief Argues".
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  1. Dan Greenberg from Impossible Software, GmbH, February 7, 2019 at 10:42 a.m.

    The FTC may not be telecom engineers, but I am.

    Mendocino fails as an example when it is properly examined. In fact, it's a counter-example. let's look...

    Firefighters were using their personal phones - phones on consumer plans - to communicate during the fire.  Under consumer subscriptions, those phones were subject to throttling. We'll get to why that's OK... even important... in a moment.  But first, let's dwell on why this was necessary.

    Apparently, the firefighters' normal communications channels (presumably radio) were not working, perhaps due to the rugged terrain.  That points to a failure to properly plan and equip the firefighters for this sort of scenario.  And one aspect of that plan should/could have been "use your cell phones."  And if that were the case, Mendocino FD could have requested that the personal cell phones be put onto a "do not throttle" list (essentially a different billing plan from a standard consumer agreement).  It's nice to transfer blame to the carriers - it sores political points too - but that diverts from fixing the root cause (poor planning) and encourages a facile and counter-productive solution (strong Net Neutrality).

    So why is Mendocino not only a poor example, but also a counter-example? To answer, consider what happens not in the utopic world of infinite bandwidth that NN ideologues inhabit, but in the real world where bandwidth is limited.  If there is no throttling for any reason under finite bandwidth, all services for all users slow down when the network is congested. That's pretty obvious.

    So, think about it. Those firefighters are in an area of limited bandwidth. Under strong NN, their service would be diminished by all other users... for instance, people who want to stream FB Live just because.  This can have the same effect as throttling them, but the network would have no legal way to alleviate the situation. Is that what the NN advocates really intend?

    Without strong NN, the network can segreggate users and services to be a higher priority. Users like firefighters and services like emergency communications. Without strong NN, all it takes is for those users and services to be enumerated to the carriers. That takes planning by the emergency services, but it's the right outcome. Strong NN ensures an unintended bad outcome instead.  And that is what makes Mendocino a counter-example for strong NN.

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