‘With enough of us, around the world, we’ll not just send a strong message opposing the privatization of knowledge – we’ll make it a thing of the past.’
Aaron Swartz from Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
By Cari Machet
July 13, 2014
Gatekeepers of the information highway, ISP’s, are prioritizing different kinds of Internet usage (for instance they are delaying peer-to-peer applications). Future transparency rules that are being proposed on traffic management methods – enforced now – are not sufficient to protect the end user as just revealing/disclosing the methods of traffic management do not solve the issues of throttling, blocking, etc.. New and open networks with more speed and far less latency are inevitable. Questions remain as to whether governments will stand in the way of the possibilities for society to have a faster or slower trajectory toward this inevitability. Will there be more of an alignment with corporations or communities? The major interests of corporations seem to be in making money as they keep the level of communication low in order to milk the system as is. Corporations don’t seem to be investing into infrastructure thereby, making more profit without having to invest anything back.
What would be the vested interest of government in slowing growth for the communication sector of society?
Perhaps if local governments were to regulate a specific level of infrastructure investment by companies thereby setting standards for the industry to meet – as they do with other industries like with safety standards in numerous industries – the level of involvement of local governments would make a difference. Heightening local involvement in instances such as efficient spectrum management could solve some of the issues that are already present in the net. The Chattanooga model points to what local municipalities have the power to achieve within a very short time span when local governments utilize what they already have in their established dark fiber infrastructure and have a mindset for a different way than what the corporations are offering; this can result in a heightened communications level, a heightened knowledge base and involvement of the local government in the subsequent steps a city or township will take into the future.
Comcast is one of the US monopolies that is looking to become even larger but in their PR quest to portray themselves as not pariah they are touting a new ‘public wi-fi’. The so called public wi-fi (which is not really a public wi-fi hotspot system at all) has caught them in the middle of their own argument of not having enough bandwidth. Their infrastructure isn’t sufficient to handle video files like that of Netflix as they are saying they have limited bandwidth yet they are opening up their modems without causing bandwidth loss as if they have unlimited bandwidth. Comcasts’ Xfinity will be able to handle the load of opening up peoples modems to other users that are also Comcast Xfinity customers without any loss of bandwidth to the initial customer of the cable modem – where did all that bandwidth come from?
Netflix has developed (along with many other companies, Google for one) content delivery servers or peering connections. Companies like Netflix have placed servers globally either close to or inside ISP’s data centers. It is essentially what people point to as the ‘fast-lane’ of the future. The structure of the Internet has long had a fast lane. Companies and people that can afford it have had T1 lines and T3 lines, the military uses connections that are very high rates of speed, and NASA has a whole other ‘Internet’ the NASA Science Network, NSF developed CSNET and DOE evolved the Energy Sciences Network or ESNet and they are involved in quantum computing – a quantum based Internet, and with quantum cryptography.
A tiered Internet is also seen in the very fact that not all regions are getting online no matter if we are discussing North America or other continents – on Native American lands in the US the rate of the population that has Internet access is incredibly low. Some organizations like for one the Internet Archive made it possible for areas in poverty to have free Internet access in San Francisco. People often resort to using their mobile phone access to get online which can be very expensive in terms of data rates.
In New Mexico recently the FCC had a live public comment session as they are legally bound to do when initiating new rules like ‘Protecting and Promoting Open Internet’ the new rules that are to deal with net neutrality issues – some interesting questions where asked as people were live tweeting the meeting they flowed thru twitter:
Something that rarely gets discussed in this often misdirected debate of net neutrality is the commons – and in this case it is not just the commons in terms of the land but also the airwaves – and the infrastructure that society has collectively paid for, worked for. These are some of the same issues that came up with cable companies when US governments made way for them to have power over infrastructure.
The reason that Comcast and Netflix recently had a public row was not really because Comcast was throttling the video of Netflix but because Comcast wanted to charge Netflix for placing their CDN’s in their data centers an amount of rent and Netflix did not want to pay but eventually gave in. What people are concerned over is that this kind of transaction will give Netflix preferential treatment by Comcast and, as well, many others will be asking to place there CDN’s in data centers in future. The concern is that the internet will be faster for some things and not for others, so, not that there will be a fast lane – as there already is one – but that there will be more of a slow lane than we already have now. The regulatory body – the FCC – dealing with these types of businesses seems to not only be anti-forcefully regulating the industry but not that interested in doing so.
And How Long Have We Had This Internet Thing Anyway?
Part of the FCC statement from the announcement admits the debacle level:
‘Today, there are no legally enforceable rules by which the Commission can stop broadband providers from limiting Internet openness. This Notice begins the process of closing that gap, by proposing to reinstitute the no-blocking rule adopted in 2010 and creating a new rule that would bar commercially unreasonable actions from threatening Internet openness.’
The overly broad wording from the FCC of barring ‘commercially unreasonable actions‘ and the unlikelihood that the FCC will be changing the classification of broadband providers into Title II classification – common carrier law – which delineates a business to be required to serve all customers – raises many red flags. Especially in light of that a reclassification would make it far easier to regulate, ISPs would be legally treated as utilities, laws would prevent them from blocking or degrading traffic but, moreover it would make the ISPs share the infrastructure – internet lines – with other companies, opening up the field.
While in Canada broadband is considered a common carrier, the FCC is still asking questions as a body (they are mandated to do so) but it doesn’t mean they will vote as a board for the ISP’s to be reclassified – such regulatory questions are important to ask especially when society is getting reports that the speed rate of the internet for the US is tenth in the world. But even if the companies are reclassified as Title II they seem to have a bait and switch or carpetbagger mentality, often not delivering what they are legally bound to plus steadily degrading services while, yes, charging more.
Some in congress are so alarmed that they have basically acted on their own and a bill has been proposed.
‘The Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prohibit paid prioritization agreements between Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) and content providers on the last mile Internet connection, the connection between the ISP and the consumer. In addition, it would prohibit broadband providers from prioritizing or otherwise giving preferential treatment to its own last mile Internet traffic or the traffic of its affiliates over the traffic of others.’
If the CDN’s are in the data centers of the ISP then would this have anything to do with them – does this bill really have teeth? The corporations like Netflix Open Connect and Google Global Cache that can afford to pay the ISP’s for faster connections can afford to put CDN’s in data centers and afford to have special peering or interconnection deals.
Monopolies See Darkly Through Transparency
And oh well, yes, the FCC wants more transparency ‘…we tentatively conclude that we should require that broadband providers disclose meaningful information regarding the source, location, timing, speed, packet loss, and duration of network congestion.’ but, ‘…should we modify our existing
process for protecting the confidentiality of competitively sensitive information?’. The FCC has no clear route of how to implement such ‘transparency’ except that they might take on the task – no hint toward industry inspectors or an independent body to analyze and verify the data. They don’t include other serious degradation threats by ISP’s like content modification which, brings questions about how serious they are taking the matter of transparency. Plus it seems they want just for the companies to tell society some data numbers and that’s that… is that the full purpose of ‘transparency‘?
One of the most problematic things with ISP’s is that they make 10 year broadband contracts with city’s or townships and in that hinder the competition that so many laud in stimulating growth – growth in hardware & internet infrastructure, but growth in terms of expanding human functionality too. What does the FCC say about all this consolidation and monopolization – well they are going to ‘preempt state laws‘:
‘I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so.’ Which means effectively they won’t be changing anything that already exists for towns or cities by way of challenging existing laws or changing regulations ‘given the opportunity’?
Also in this blog post it is made clear that Tom Wheeler – the FCC Chair – is fully aware of the communication issues society faces: (editor’s emphasis)
‘Local phone and cable companies chose to delay improvements in broadband service to the Chattanooga area market. Without faster networks, Chattanooga residents were at risk of finding themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, bypassed by the opportunities high-speed connectivity enables.’
Chattanooga’s networks deliver gigabit-per-second speeds, removing bandwidth as a constraint on innovation.
In some of these communities, there is no available broadband service whatsoever. Commercial broadband providers can pick and choose who to serve based on whether there is an economic case for it. On the other hand, Mayor Berke told me that Chattanooga believes that it has a duty to ensure that all of its citizens have affordable broadband Internet access.’
Ok Mike, so why isn’t it your duty to ensure all citizens have affordable high speed Internet? Why are there states – entire states not just municipalities – whereby corporations have been legally allowed to put a strangle hold on growth in any sector let alone that of communications – aren’t you the chair of the nations regulator – The Federal COMMUNICATION Commission?
Sure the Internet providers are in it to make money – it is mandated by US law – corporations are legally bound by their shareholders to make that the priority so one of the ways they can secure the making of money long term is by making deals with cities, townships, etc. for contracts of coverage for time spans of sometimes 10 years. Do citizens – netizens know that their governments are making these 10 year deals and what that means? This kind of stranglehold on communications is only one of the many ways corporations are being dysfunctional in society that directly effects innovation, and that is a global effect. Solutions within the FCC’s proposed rules do not seem, however, to create a clear, exacting rule for shifts needed in regulating corporations; rather creating a retroactive make shift FCC corporate ‘referee’ as EFF rightly calls out:
‘…if these rules are enacted, the FCC would become a “referee” looking at ISPs’ conduct and calling out actions that they think will harm the non-neutral Internet. The FCC would also hire an “ombudsman” to help smaller businesses and individuals bring complaints to the agency.
‘We’re very concerned about the “referee” model, because it could give the FCC too much power to make decisions on the fly, perhaps practicing the very kinds of favoritism that shouldn’t happen on a neutral Internet. Also, it deals with non-neutral behaviors after the fact, instead of providing clear rules at the outset. This could also create a very uncertain environment for ISP’s and Internet users, and potentially help turn a future FCC into exactly the sort of arbitrary and intrusive regulator of the Internet that we fear.’
One question is whether society will continue to structure itself in a way that is aligned with the ideology of stagnation in growth or not?
Freedom Isn’t Free Of Structure
In March the FCC announced a shift in the regulations of a spectrum so, perhaps Mr. Wheeler is putting more stock in high speed Wi-Fi to create infrastructure growth solutions.
‘The Commission adopted a Report and Order modifying the rules governing the operation of Unlicensed National Information Infrastructure (U-NII) devices operating in the 5 GHz band. By its action the Commission significantly increased the utility of the 100 megahertz of spectrum, and streamlined existing rules and equipment authorization procedures for devices throughout the 5 GHz band.’
New outdoor and power strength allocations open the possibility of providing the infrastructure needed for more innovation in tech.
‘The changes we are making will provide fertile ground for the growth of “Gigabit Wi-Fi” – the latest generation of ultra-high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi that can provide data speeds in excess of 1 Gigabit per second.’
Many solutions are needed if we are to uphold some sort of semblance of freedom on the net not just the tech structure of the net itself. Laws or regulations can be relied upon but, many factors must all work together to fortify our freedoms. It is common enough for a corporation to at least attempt to get corporate welfare but, it unearths some heavy questions that need to be confronted about the functionality of the infrastructure supporting the current global information highway, besides questions about the undersea cables that all seem to lead to the United States. And trying to hold onto threads of openness in consistent onslaughts of emergency with a society ill informed or prepared is not an intelligent route.
There are 3 places Net Neutrality laws exist – the Netherlands net neutrality law came about directly because Dutch telecoms planned to charge for applications that offered options like VOIP so that their own services would have an advantage; further the company revealed that it had used Deep Packet Inspection – DPI to figure the customers that were using such services that utilize VOIP. The translated legal provisions can be found on the website of Bits of Freedom a Dutch digital rights organization.
Brazil’s net neutrality framework was also attempting to include privacy protections but they had to drop a key provision in the bill making ISP’s store data on Brazilian servers in order for the legislation to pass.
And the Chilean net neutrality law was recently tested – essentially Twitter and other providers made deals with service providers to make their service free for users but that makes the playing field for other social media providers unequal and Chilean courts have ruled it unlawful.
The UN Human Rights Council has determined that Internet freedom is a human right and they have called on sectors of society for engagement:
‘Considering the key importance of government engagement with all relevant stakeholders, including civil society, private sector, the technical community and academia, in protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms online,’
2. Recognizes the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms;
3. Calls upon all States to promote and facilitate access to the Internet, and international cooperation aimed at the development of media and information and communication facilities and technologies in all countries’
The human rights connection to information can be more forcefully put forward as a node of the why when working on presenting and structuring information technology, be it with software, hardware or infrastructure.
Hampered by media consolidation particular to net neutrality, if human ingenuity can win over the very limiting aspects of Neo-Liberal Capitalism – like it often does with green technology – the Information Age can fully thrive; just as when The Enlightenment was often yanked back from its inevitability because of desires for information silo’s.
China and Iran basically have their own ‘internets’ and other places are applying by different means filters on content like in the UK and there are numerous issues regarding throttling by service providers; add to all that blocking by service providers (such as T-mobiles idea to block Skype on the iPhone in Germany) and the backdoor access that governments have made for themselves, just how does that degrade service? While the US commission has not set up a study to determine exactly what is happening with data flows, in Europe they have even done an investigation. But what is happening in the EU regarding the legalities of net neutrality is not maybe as principled or functional as the spokespeople’s words for the governing bodies often convey. The EU Parliament has voted ‘yes’ to enact a single market citing:
‘The current regulatory framework has not been able to fully deliver its objective to establish a single market for electronic communications. The differences in national rules, while compatible with the existing EU regulatory framework, nevertheless create barriers to operating and acquiring services across borders, thereby limiting the freedom to provide electronic communications, as guaranteed under EU law.’
But there are net neutrality hurdles in the EU that the United States has not had to confront to a certain degree,
‘Measures will focus on tackling clear bottlenecks to the Single Market, with the minimum necessary amendments to the existing regulatory framework needed in order to create the conditions for new cross-border electronic communications markets to develop at EU level. In doing so it would allow meeting the two-fold Single Market objective of freedom of provision and freedom of consumption of electronic communications services. At the same time, by leaving the existing regulatory framework largely untouched, including in the way that national regulatory authorities supervise markets, it avoids disrupting operations of those providers that would opt for keeping a national (or sub-national) footprint.’
The single market proposal now heads to the European Commission for a further vote in October.
Speech: An Open Internet for the whole world
Neelie KROES Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda recently gave a speech lauding an open Internet for all but it is concerning that she talks of Africa. On two nodes it is concerning – she praises or seems to have envy about that Africa was able to leap frog over all the infrastructure problems of the Internet by just going straight to mobile and she tells of plans to enhance the already developed ICT relationship that Europe has with Africa.
‘…Africa is not just skipping a generation of technology, but even overtaking.
Free of vested interests and legacy sectors, developing countries have a huge opportunity to leap ahead. Starting from a clean slate – a chance to build digital in everywhere, right from the start.
A few years ago I was in Nairobi, in one of the largest, poorest slums in the world. Even there, nurses are learning online. Migrant workers are using mobile banking to send money back home. Even in a place with few shops, mobile credit is the one thing on sale everywhere.
We are helping this development. In Africa alone: we are offering €8.4 million to help a harmonized and competitive ICT market. Over one hundred million to link up scientists with their counterparts in Europe. 4 million for the eHSA program, for satellite-based healthcare.’
Concerns are ever present regarding relationships and international treaties on communications because of long histories of colonization, as without profound protections of sovereignty entire continents are left to have at best a highly vulnerable communications sector.
Corporations as state actors are becoming more evident thru leaks and greater communications levels globally – also they don’t seem to be disguising this fact as much as in the past, maybe – Google being a prominent one (there are many others) is clear here regarding the ITU in 2012:
‘The conference had attracted criticism because of its one-country-one-vote model that ignores population size. Internet companies, including Google Inc., have complained that they don’t get a voice in the negotiations. While technology groups are allowed to participate in the discussions and have joined as parts of delegations, they don’t get a vote in the proceedings.’
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell wrote in a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed regarding the 2012 ITU:
“By agreeing to broaden the scope of the ITU’s rules to include the Internet, encompassing its operations and content, these nations have radically undermined the highly successful, private sector, non- governmental, multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance.”
Wait a minute, doesn’t he work for the government?
Beginning this October there will be another ITU Treaty negotiation in South Korea, IMMI is awaiting our invitation, are there some specific data packets we could be studying in preparation?
The EDRi Papers NET NEUTRALITY: http://www.edri.org/files/paper08_netneutrality.pdf
Photo by Jacob Appelbaum – CC BY-SA 2.0
Feature Photo by Steve Rhodes – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/)