MONEY Net neutrality

Why Net Neutrality Isn’t Worth Celebrating

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler (C) holds hands with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn (L) and Jessica Rosenworcel during an open hearing on Net Neutrality at the FCC headquarters February 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. Today the FCC will vote on Net Neutrality seeking to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet.
Mark Wilson—Getty Images

Net neutrality doesn't fix the most pressing problem with our internet service.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission officially approved net neutrality regulations intended to protect consumers and businesses from internet service providers.

The new rules, broadly outlined earlier this month by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, will restrict ISPs like Comcast and Time Warner from blocking or slowing down traffic to certain websites, or allowing certain companies to pay extra for better treatment.

These regulations are positive step, but those swept up by the hype might end up disappointed when the real thing finally arrives. That’s because net neutrality doesn’t seriously address anything cable companies are currently doing, nor will it help with the number one issue most people care about: the price and quality of their service.

What Net Neutrality Really Does

Let’s start with the restrictions against blocking or slowing down websites. It’s obviously good that cable companies will now be prevented from actively censoring content, but this isn’t something ISPs ever actually practiced.

“I think it’s funny that the three big rules are no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization,” Dan Rayburn, principal analyst at Frost & Sullivan and owner of StreamingMedia.com, told MONEY. “That’s all great, but do we have a single instance of an ISP doing any of those things?”

That might sound surprising to those who’ve heard Netflix’s repeated complaints that various ISPs, particularly Comcast, were intentionally degrading its service unless the company paid a “toll.” Isn’t that exactly what net neutrality is meant to stop?

Well, sort of. What Netflix and Comcast are really fighting over is something called “interconnection” or “peering,” where sites with especially heavy traffic have to pay more for extra capacity. Comcast says Netflix should be charged for using additional resources, whereas Netflix thinks it’s being strong-armed into forking over more than it should.

The new net neutrality regulations give the FCC some oversight over these agreements to determine if they’re “just and reasonable,” but that standard is so vague as to make an already complicated issue difficult to enforce. In Chairman Wheeler’s proposal, broadband providers are allowed to pretty much do whatever they want as long as they defend their actions as “reasonable network management,” which, as The Verge points out, is “a term which the ISPs have already been using to justify congestion at interconnection points.”

What Net Neutrality Doesn’t Fix

The upshot of all this is very little will change for the average U.S. internet user in a post-net-neutrality world. That’s a bad thing, because America does have a very serious internet problem desperately in need of regulatory assistance: namely, the fact that our internet connections are slower and costlier than the rest of the developed world’s.

The solution to this problem is simple: more competition. Almost one third of Americans have no choice in their broadband provider—a number that will go up to 66% if Comcast is allowed to merge with Time Warner Cable—meaning cable companies don’t have to compete very hard for your business.

Competition is scarce because it’s prohibitively expensive for a new company to build its own fiber network. The FCC could have fixed this problem by requiring “last-mile unbundling,” a policy that would force major broadband providers to lease their own networks to competing ISPs, when it reclassified broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. However, Chairman Wheeler explicitly ruled unbundling out of any net neutrality regulation.

This means the average internet user is going to be paying more for subpar internet for the foreseeable future. The Obama administration is planning to address this by encouraging cities to develop their own broadband networks, which, if effective, should create more competition and faster internet service. But such a solution is far away and will likely face significant legal hurdles.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying net neutrality is actively bad. We’re better off in a world with these kinds of restrictions. That said, the new rules should be seen as little more than a preventive measure for abuses that have largely yet to occur. For more meaningful reform, Americans should throw their support behind other policies that will break broadband monopolies and actually improve their connections. The fight for a better internet isn’t over. It’s barely begun.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How Facebook Is Helping Suicidal People

Facebook will offer suicide prevention resources to users posting troubling messages

Facebook is going to give timelier help to users who post updates suggesting thoughts of suicide, the company announced on Wednesday.

According to a Facebook post written by Product Manager Rob Boyle and Safety Specialist Nicole Staubli, a trained team will review reports of posts that appear to be suicidal and if necessary send the poster notifications with suicide prevention resources, such as a connection to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline hotline.

The Facebook support posts are expected to look something like this:

Facebook-Suicide-Prevention-hotline-posts
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They also will contact the person reporting the posts, providing them with options to call or message the potentially suicidal friend, or to also seek the advice of a trained professional.

The new approach is an update on a clunkier system, implemented in 2011, that required users to upload links and screenshots to the official Facebook suicide prevention page.

For the project, Facebook worked with suicide prevention organizations Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention, Now Matters Now, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Save.org.

The company was clear that the update was not a replacement for local emergency services.

TIME Internet

There’s Now a Sanitized Version of Uptown Funk by Mormon Singer Alex Boyé

Just in case the original's reference to liquor wasn't for you

Mormon-owned newspaper Deseret News reports that vocalist Alex Boyé, 44, has released a sanitized version of the massive Mark Ronson hit, Uptown Funk.

The original lyric “put some liquor in it” has been amended to “put some Kool-Aid in it,” while “hot damn” has been changed to “hot dang.” Boyé’s version — filmed in the city of Provo, Utah — features in the paper’s “Clean Cut” section of videos that are “inspiring, entertaining or educational and always family friendly.”

Making appearances are scores of senior citizens aged between 65 to 92, including Jean Elliots ‘Golden Girls’ — real-life dancing grandmas from Utah.

Boyé, of Nigerian descent, has been a Mormon since his mid-teens and is primarily known for making Africanized versions of popular songs, many of which are posted on his YouTube channel.

MONEY The Economy

Internet Activists Near Win in Fight for Net Neutrality

Republicans appear to be ceding the fight against net neutrality for now, but the FCC’s plan still faces stiff opposition.

TIME Internet

New Google Doodle Honors Chinese New Year

A performer looks out from the head of a lion dance costume during the opening of Ditan Temple Fair on the Lunar New Year's Eve in Beijing, China Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015
Andy Wong—AP A performer looks out from the head of a lion dance costume during the opening of Ditan Temple Fair on the Lunar New Year's Eve in Beijing, China Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2015

Gong xi fa cai!

A new Google Doodle is ringing in the Lunar New Year — in Chinese astrology, the Year of the Goat — with an animated graphic that looks more like a sheep. Or it could be a ram. But the confusion is understandable, since the Chinese word (羊) for all three animals is the same.

For people across East Asia, this is an important time for family reunions. In China, what is often called the largest annual human migration on earth takes place as millions of migrant workers leave the cities and board trains to return to their native villages for what is also called the Spring Festival.

It’s tempting to draw an analogy between packed train carriages and flocks of sheep, but, as anyone who has traveled in China during peak periods knows, you need to be much more of a ram if you’re going to stand any hope of getting aboard.

Gong xi fa cai! Good luck and prosperity in 2015.

TIME Companies

Prank Callers Are Calling Comcast Customers to Curse At Them

Cable Giant Comcast To Acquire Time Warner Cable
Joe Raedle—Getty Images A Comcast truck is seen parked at one of their centers on February 13, 2014 in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Why you shouldn't post about your customer service grievances publicly

Prank callers masquerading as Comcast representatives have reportedly found fresh victims on the company’s Twitter feed, phoning frustrated customers simply to insult them.

Consumer advocate Chris Elliott reports that two victims received a call from self-proclaimed customer service representatives shortly after they had posted complaints to @Comcastcares, one of the cable service provider’s official Twitter feeds.

“We are Comcast, and we can charge you whatever the f*** we want’,” one customer was told. The call was recorded, and included unprintable physical and sexual threats, according to Elliott’s eponymous blog

Comcast traced the call to Ontario, Canada, where the company does not maintain a call center. A company spokesperson definitively declared it a “hoax.”

This isn’t the first time a Comcast customer has been taunted with obscenities. Some customers had previously received bills where their names were replaced by insults such as “Whore” and “Dummy,” Arstechnica reports. Comcast traced the bills to a third-party call center and terminated its contract with the company.

Our tip to avoid this? Don’t post your contact details publicly — if you’re dealing with a customer service Twitter account, slide into their DMs instead.

Read next: This Will Change the Way You Use Your Visa Card Forever

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME privacy

How AT&T Wants You to Pay For Your Privacy

AT&T Reports 81 Percent Rise In Q2 Profit
Tim Boyle—Getty Images An AT&T logo is displayed on an AT&T truck July 25, 2006 in Park Ridge, Illinois.

ISP can track your web history and searches

The privilege of not having your every click tracked, saved and regurgitated in the form of targeted ads will only cost you $29 per month on AT&T’s super-fast Internet service.

The company, which just announced it’s bringing its 1-gigabit-per-second service to Kansas City, touts a price tag of $70 per month for the high-speed connection meant to compete with services like Google Fiber. But that’s actually a “premier” offering that allows AT&T to track a user’s search terms and browsing history to serve targeted ads. The standard high-speed service without the tracking costs $99.

AT&T defended the pricing model to The Wall Street Journal by arguing that the ad targeting helps AT&T make more money, which in turn lets customers who participate earn a discount. The model is somewhat similar to the discounted Kindles Amazon sells that show advertising. Companies with free, ad-based services, like Facebook, don’t allow users to fully opt out of being tracked while on their sites.

However, the fact that AT&T is an Internet provider means it could gather a more comprehensive picture of your Web browsing activities than companies with a less intrusive presence. That’s lucrative for advertisers and for ISP’s, but not so great for privacy-minded end users.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: February 18

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. More than a decade ago, the international community tackled AIDS in Africa. Now we should do the same with cancer in the developing world.

By Lawrence N. Shulman in Policy Innovations

2. Finally, an app for kids to anonymously report cyber-bullying.

By Issie Lapowsky in Wired

3. Indians in the U.S. sent $13 billion home last year. A new plan aims to push some of that money into social good investments in India.

By Simone Schenkel in CSIS Prosper

4. Websites are just marketing. The next Internet is TV.

By John Herrman in The Awl

5. The U.K. may set up a digital court to settle small claims online.

By Chris Baraniuk in New Scientist

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME technology

A Red Cross for Cyberspace

internet-browser-address-bar
Getty Images

Let's start a conversation about whether and how a global cyber federation could make cyberspace a more resilient and humanitarian human creation

Here’s an understatement: 2014 was a bad year for cybersecurity. The Sony hack was the highest profile hack of the year, a cyber-attack against a German iron plant caused massive physical damage, and the Heartbleed vulnerability was considered “catastrophic” even among experts not known to be alarmist. In the meantime, large-scale data breaches hit household names such as Target, Home Depot and JP Morgan Chase, with new reports emerging almost weekly. In the history of cybersecurity, 2014 marks a new low. As 2015 gets underway, news of the insurance company Anthem being hacked suggests cybersecurity is unlikely to improve anytime soon. That’s why conversations in national capitals, boardrooms, international conferences and on-line discourse feature a growing call to action.

The time is ripe for a bolder approach to cybersecurity, one not beholden to the existing politics of Internet governance nor linked to particular governments or intergovernmental organizations. We believe cyberspace could use a global cyber federation, a federation of non-governmental institutions similar to the role that the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and humanitarian assistance organizations more broadly have with respect to armed conflicts and natural disasters.

The good news: we do not have to start from scratch. Some of the building blocks for such a system already exist. Back in 1988, when the Internet was the victim of its first serious threat – the Morris worm – a group of people created a Computer Emergency Response Team (“CERT”). These visionaries were not focused on commercial markets or making money; they simply cared about the Internet’s survival. They sought to maintain and protect the security of the network and the systems that rely on it, whether they faced “internal” threats of inter-operability and unforeseen errors, or “external” ones from hacktivists, criminal groups, or foreign nation states. Their example inspired others, and today there are dozens of CERTs and CSIRTS (Computer Security Incident Response Teams) established around the world. Many of them are part of a global umbrella confederation dubbed “FIRST.”

The bad news: many of these CERTs and CSIRTS are relatively weak and their independence is increasingly under threat from other interests. They lack support from policy makers and, depending on the institutional set-up, may be subject to control by national governments pursuing other political purposes (think intelligence collection). Moreover, at the global level, FIRST is not (yet) a mature system, capable of directing CERTS to coordinate or cooperate when cyber security problems transcend borders.

From Solferino to Sony

So what does the Red Cross and Red Crescent have to do with the Internet? The Internet and accompanying CERT system could benefit from a set of principles akin to those of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations. Having a network of assistance organizations, united in a commitment to independence, neutrality, and impartiality could strengthen and support existing CERTs and make cyberspace a safer and more secure place than current conflicts and instability allow.

The Red Cross Movement began on June 24, 1859 as the French and Austro-Hungarian monarchs faced off in the battle of Solferino. Touring the streets and fields in the battle’s aftermath, a young Swiss businessman, Henry Dunant, saw, smelled, and heard the cries of the thousands wounded and left to die without care. Appalled, he organized aid work and launched a powerful idea for the future – a group to assist victims and prisoners of armed conflicts. Through his book, A Memory of Solferino, Dunant lobbied for the initiation of national associations to help the sick and wounded and for governments to agree on laws of warfare. Dunant’s work bore fruit in the first Geneva Convention and fed into the emergence of the Red Cross and (in Islamic nations) Red Crescent movement. For his ideas and advocacy, Dunant received the first-ever Nobel Peace Prize.

Today, the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the world’s most admired humanitarian endeavor. It consists of three, inter-related groups: (i) 188 national societies that provide training, assistance, and relief for disasters; (ii) the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), which coordinates the national societies and tackles large-scale crises; and (iii) the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which focuses on protecting the lives and dignity of victims of armed violence, whether detainees or civilians. This structure means that the Red Cross Movement can not only provide assistance and protection everywhere, but also do so in ways tailored to the problems presented. Thus, national societies organize food, shelter, and medical care after an earthquake, while the ICRC works to visit detainees wherever fighting occurs. Its emblems – the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and most recently a more secular Red Crystal – enjoy such universal respect that international law prohibits their misuse as a war crime.

The success of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement – and it has had many – may be traced to several core principles: neutrality, impartiality, and independence. The movement is neutral at its core – it does not become involved in or take sides in crises where it offers its assistance and protection. Such assistance and protection is given impartially, without discrimination or concern for the victim or detainee’s identity or what they may have done before needing help. And it is independent, most notably with the ICRC’s avowedly non-governmental structure, making it beholden to no individual government nor any inter-governmental organization.

Similar to the national societies of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, CERTs form a growing network of like-minded groups of dedicated individuals, focused on identifying vulnerabilities in cyberspace and assisting in remediating threats when they cause harm. But today’s CERTS do not have anything resembling a coordinating institution like the IFRC nor a universal set of shared values recognized and appreciated by states and non-state actors alike. Unlike the autonomy of national Red Cross societies, some CERTS are regularly assumed to be agents of the states in which they reside, an assumption that may be increasingly accurate as more CERTs are subsumed within governmental structures. As such, there’s no guarantee that CERTs will reveal all vulnerabilities they see; they may keep secret those used by other agencies within their government. Nor is it clear they have a duty to assist all victims, as opposed to only those that their government has an interest in assisting.

Simply put, CERTs and CSIRTS have yet to engender the reputation or trust of a neutral, impartial and independent institution like the Red Cross and humanitarian organizations generally. Nor are they fully equipped to tailor cyber security responses to their nature and scale. Certainly, some formalized CERT cooperation occurs, primarily at a bilateral or regional level, alongside more robust informal communications. But there is no structure like the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to ensure coordination and communication among all national groupings, let alone anything akin to the ICRC, for remediating the most severe cyber events.

Today, CERTs may best be thought of as “digital fire brigades” – a label devised by the European Union’s Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA). Another initiative, Cyber Green, invokes the language of public health to describe cyber security and the functions of CERTs. These analogies have limitations. Fire brigades, for example, are inherently local organizations that focus on problems of a certain scale; they usually do not have to cooperate transnationally as most cyber incidents require. As such, fire brigades have little need for values like neutrality and impartiality to explain their functions in the way that Dunant described French doctors “who would do everything that was humanly possible without distinction of nationality” to assist those in need. But, given the current state of cybersecurity, we’d argue cyberspace needs independent, neutral, and impartial organizations to restore trust in the Internet and protect the information technology that increasingly supports critical infrastructure, and thru it, human existence.

Whatever their current weaknesses, CERTs could form the basic building block for a Red Cross-like movement in cyberspace. The key lies in generating an appreciation for the benefits of institutionalizing an independent and neutral security and assistance function. Of course, some States may object to creating such an institution; indeed, the United Kingdom and France originally resisted the Red Cross idea as unnecessary or incapable of operating with neutrality. But those States eventually came to appreciate how trusting a neutral actor to provide relief and assistance could better mitigated the harm from wars and disasters than relying on States and their agents to do so. Today, nation states around the world value and support the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and the humanitarian principles.

Certainly, neither the Red Cross movement nor our metaphor to it, are perfect. Sometimes assistance fails to arrive. Red Cross neutrality can be controversial, with questions of whether it should help law enforcement when it comes to war criminals hiding in refugee populations, or whether it should take sides in cases of egregious war crimes or violations of human rights. But the success of the Red Cross rests on principles like neutrality and impartiality precisely because it operates on the assumption that bad things will happen. When they do, it has the trust and status within the international community to step in and make things better for the worst affected. That’s a role that no one plays in cyberspace right now, but one which cyberspace desperately needs. Recognizing the existing norms that guide the CERT community and strengthening them akin to the humanitarian principles could be an important start.

The Internet’s Dunantist moment

The time for a Dunantist moment in the Internet’s history has come. The Red Cross was the vanguard of the humanitarian movement. It set up institutions to deal with harms regardless of cause – from tsunamis to wars. It laid the foundation for principles guiding humanitarian NGOs around the world today – humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. These principles were first implicitly then explicitly recognized by states as they devised provisions for the protection of humanitarian principles, workers, and organizations. We need the same sort of approach for organizations whose mission is to keep the networks running and to provide assistance in times of cyber crises.

The appalling cyber security landscape of 2015 is obviously a far cry from the Solferino battlefield. Our argument is not that cyber security failures are equivalent to the ravages of war; so far, cyber threats have bruised more bank accounts and egos than people. Nor do we want the Red Cross itself to take on responsibility for cyber security. Nevertheless, we do believe that the principles the Red Cross and humanitarian organizations around the world adhere to and the networked governance structure offer an interesting blueprint to develop a new regime for cyberspace – a global cyber federation. This federation could provide neutral, impartial and independent assistance to the Internet and its users.

To call for independent, neutral, and impartial cyber protection institutions and principles does not mean that governments cannot support these efforts. In fact, many humanitarian NGOs receive government funding. As Dunant pointed out, it is imperative for the success of such a system “to secure the goodwill of the authorities of the countries in which they had been formed, but also, in case of war, to solicit from the rulers of the belligerent states authorization and facilities enabling them to do effective work.” Dunant was not naïve. He expected that future wars would happen and that they would be more lethal than previous ones because of new technologies. He wanted institutions and norms that could deal with these scenarios, and pushed for their establishment in advance, that is in times of peace so as to be ready for times of war and crisis. Dunant insisted on a resilient, global network of assistance. We would like to do the same for cyberspace.

There are obvious open questions and significant obstacles to forming a global cyber federation. For example, law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies have vested interests to cooperate with CERTs to gain access to new vulnerabilities or avoid their disclosure where it might undermine ongoing operations. Moreover, governments need CERTs to protect their own networks. Such issues implicate important questions of independence and neutrality. How can existing CERTs become building blocks for a global cyber federation; should they be pushed to more autonomy within each nation like the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies? Or, do we need a parallel system of nongovernmental CERTs? We do not have all the answers. Our point is more simple; to start a conversation about whether and how a global cyber federation could make cyberspace a more resilient and humanitarian human creation. To use Dunant’s words, we hope that “once people begin to think about a matter of such general interest as this, it will lead to reflections and writings by people abler and more competent than” us.

Duncan Hollis is James E. Beasley Professor of Law at Temple University. Tim Maurer is research fellow at New America. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Internet

New Google Doodle Honors Alessandro Volta, Forefather of the Modern Battery

Undated picture of Italian physicist and inventor Alexander Volta (1745 - 1827)
AP Photo—AP Undated picture of Italian physicist and inventor Alexander Volta (1745 - 1827)

*Throws metal strips in saltwater, changes world forever*

A new Google Doodle is celebrating what would have been the 270th birthday of the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, who in the year 1800 published a theory that led to the modern battery.

As TIME wrote back in 2007, Volta “realized metals could produce a current and developed the first battery, or ‘voltaic pile,’ a series of copper and zinc strips in salt water that gave off an electric current instead of static electricity.”

Born Feb. 18, 1745, in Como, Italy, Volta’s invention was the result of a professional competition with Luigi Galvani, who discovered that dissected frogs’ legs would twitch when probed with a wire.

Galvani believed the frogs’ muscles generated the electricity, while Volta thought the animal tissue was only a conductor.

The debate galvanized Volta to experiment with conductivity (often on his own tongue). Eventually, Volta put together a stack of metal disks, and when metal wires were connected to both ends of the stack, an electric current flowed through the pile, proving that animal tissue was not necessary to generate an electric current.

The Google Doodle honors Volta’s discovery with an animated battery that is reminiscent of both a voltaic pile and a battery-life reminder on a modern-day smartphone.

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