TIME legal

FCC Extends Net Neutrality Deadline After Website Crashes

Protesters hold a rally before the FCC meeting on net neutrality proposal in Washington, DC.
Protesters march past the FCC headquarters before the Commission meeting on net neutrality proposal on May, 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. Bill O'Leary—Washington Post/Getty Images

Unable to file complaints online, protesters prepared to deliver their complaints in person

The Federal Communications Commission has extended a deadline for comments on proposed rules governing the future of the Internet after its website buckled under the pressure of the tens of thousands of comments on the matter submitted by the public.

The FCC has received more than 700,000 public comments through its online comment forms and an email inbox set up to handle the high number of messages. The website crashed on Tuesday, several hours before the public comment period was scheduled to close at midnight. The FCC announced that it would extend the comment deadline to Friday at midnight to accommodate the surge of last minute filings.

“Not surprisingly, we have seen an overwhelming surge in traffic in our website that is making it difficult for many people to file comments through our Electronic Filing System,” the FCC said in a statement.

Before the deadline changed, a consortium of net neutrality proponents, including the ACLU, DailyKos, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and MoveOn, called on supporters to hand deliver “hundreds of thousands” of printed complaints to the FCC, which they plan to do Tuesday.

The proposed rules at the center of the debate may allow Internet providers to charge content providers, such as YouTube or Netflix, for access to higher quality connections. Detractors fear such a move would divide the Internet between “fast lanes” and “slow lanes,” enabling deep-pocketed content providers to pay for better service.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the objections “flat-out wrong.” Nonetheless, he welcomed the flood of public feedback. A second round of public comments, in which people will be invited to respond to the first wave of comments, will begin on a yet-unannounced date.

“Keep your input coming” Wheeler recently tweeted as the number of comments neared 650,000.

TIME

Telecom-Funded Congressional Group: Don’t Regulate Telecom Industry!

At an event funded by the telecom industry, organizations funded by the telecom industry argue against – wait for it! – regulating the telecom industry

The non-profit Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI) hosted an event on Capitol Hill Wednesday during which an impressive line-up of tech policy analysts argued against strictly regulating the telecom industry.

Consumer and public interest groups have called for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to re-categorize Internet service providers, like Comcast and Verizon, so that strong “net neutrality” rules, requiring broadband companies to treat all content on the internet equally, can be enforced.

The speakers—who included academics, politicians and think tank analysts—argued such a move would hobble the open Internet, “cripple capital investment in the tech industry,” and harm Hispanic as well as other “minority and disenfranchised communities.”

It all sounded very dire. In fact, by the time the hour-and-half long event gave way to an evening reception, it was hard to shake the impression that if public and consumer interest groups get their way, the very fabric of modern society—technological innovation! equality! free speech!—would be torn asunder.

But before you run off and phone your Congressman, there’s one thing you need to remember: that event Wednesday was funded in part by the telecom industry.

You’d be forgiven for missing that fact.

Held in an elegant, wood-paneled room in the Dirksen Senate Building, the event was formally hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Leadership Institute (CHLI), a congressional group founded in 2003 to foster “a broad awareness of the diversity of thought, heritage, interests and views of Americans of Hispanic and Portuguese descent.” Among CHLI’s sponsors are the three biggest players in the telecom industry: Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T.

CHLI’s co-host, Ibarra Strategy Group, gets funding from Verizon.

The event was a part of CHLI’s “Congressional Briefing Series,” which is underwritten by Verizon, Comcast-NBCUniversal, AT&T, and Telemundo, a subsidiary of Comcast-NBCUniversal, as well as others, like Pfizer and AARP.

All of the event’s panelists happen to work, or recently to have worked, for organizations that are funded by the telecom industry. For example, Doug Brake, who has written numerous articles slamming calls for strong net neutrality rules, including one for Forbes, in which he dismissed net neutrality advocates as “paranoid bloggers,” is employed by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), which, according to Reuters, receives funding from the telecom industry.

Two of the panelists were also affiliated with the Hispanic Technology & Telecommunications Partnership (HTTP), which has received funding from AT&T: Martin Chavez, the former three-term mayor of Albuquerque, is HTTP’s senior advisor. Jason Llorenz, who presented as an academic from Rutgers University, was recently HTTP’s executive director.

CHLI executive director Mary Ann Gomez told TIME that the event had nothing to do with its sponsors or their sponsors’ policy preferences; however, CHLI asks its sponsors to suggest themes for its yearly “Congressional Briefing Series.” CHLI also asks its sponsors to suggest the speakers who present at these events. All of CHLI’s sponsors underwrite all the events throughout the year, not just the panels that have to do with their policy interests, Gomez said.

So what’s this all about? For the last six months, public and consumer interest groups have been calling on the FCC to consider re-categorizing the telecom industry as a “Title II” industry, along with traditional phone companies. Advocates say that doing so would give the agency formal jurisdiction over broadband services—jurisdiction that has been challenged recently in the courts.

In 2010, the FCC passed net neutrality rules requiring broadband providers to treat all content that passes over its pipes equally, regardless of its source, but in January of this year, a federal district court overturned those rules on the grounds that the agency did not have jurisdiction over such services. The telecom industry has described the effort to re-categorize it as a “Title II” industry as a “radical” “nuclear option.”

So in May, the FCC proposed a new set of net neutrality rules that would allow web companies to pay broadband providers, like Verizon and Comcast, to deliver their content more quickly and in better quality than content from other sources. Netflix, for example, pays Comcast for access to a “fast lane” so that its content can stream more quickly.

The telecom industry says that “net neutrality” can exist simultaneously with such “paid prioritization agreements.” Consumer interest advocates such as Public Knowledge say that’s hooey. “Allowing rich companies to pay for fast lanes, while the rest of us have to compete for the same congested lane—that’s not net neutrality,” said John Bergmayer, a senior counsel at Public Knowledge.

The FCC is accepting public comments on its proposed net neutrality rules until July 15. At least we know now where CHLI stands.

TIME technology

Comcast’s Fast Internet Is Bad For Its Merger Hopes

Comcast Adds TV Subscribers Again, Defying Industry Trend
Vehicles with the Xfinity logo, a high-speed internet service offered by Comcast Corp., sit outside a Comcast facility in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, April 22, 2014. Bradley C. Bower—Bloomberg/Getty Images

An FCC report that found Comcast offers fast internet undermines its central argument for why it should be allowed to merge with Time Warner Cable

The Federal Communication Commission’s report Thursday delivered both good news and bad news to Comcast, the nation’s biggest cable company, which is hoping the government will approve its proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.

The good news for Comcast is that it delivered 108 percent of its advertised download speeds during peak hours last year, according to the FCC, marking an 5 percent improvement over the company’s performance in 2012. Comcast crowed in a press release that the report “once again validates” the company’s effort “to provide the best and most broadly available Internet service in the U.S.”

The bad news for Comcast is that the FCC’s report also completely undermines its central argument for why the FCC and the Department of Justice should let it merge with TWC: that the merger won’t affect competition in the broadband marketplace since it competes with phone companies offering DSL service. Comcast’s man in Washington, David Cohen, argued in April testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that “investments by telcos in DSL technology” has led to “increased DSL speeds” and made the phone companies “formidable broadband competitors.”

But that’s not what the FCC report found. In fact, it said that despite phone companies’ investments, DSL connections showed “little or no improvement in maximum speeds,” and that phone companies were advertising speeds that are faster than the speeds they actually deliver. It also said that DSL speeds failed to reach even 90% of what they promised.

The most damning part of all? That’s not likely to change any time soon. Since DSL’s slower speeds are “intrinsic” to the technology itself, “significant capital investments across the market” would be necessary to move the needle at all, the report said. In other words, DSL’s speeds are stuck where they are, even as Internet users’ needs are surging ahead. With the explosion of streaming television, Skype and the increasing prevalence of Internet-connected appliances, thermostats and security cameras, more people today are looking for the fastest broadband speeds available to them than ever before. That means they’re dropping their old-school DSL connections in favor of cable Internet.

And that gets us back to the issue of competition. Since cable companies generally don’t compete regionally with one another, most Americans only have one cable company that serves their house. (Even if two or more cable companies operate in your city, chances are that only one serves your ‘hood.) If the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger goes through, Comcast will be one of every three Americans’ only choice for cable broadband.

In its filings and testimony before Congress, Comcast has argued that’s not a problem because Americans can choose between signing up for Comcast’s broadband and signing up for their phone company’s DSL. But that argument hinges on the idea that DSL is comparable to cable. This report declares affirmatively that’s not the case, so Comcast’s argument crumbles. The only broadband networks that can meet and exceed cable’s speed are full-fiber networks, but they’re only available to about 15% of Americans — and not to Comcast residential customers (Comcast’s fastest offerings use a mixed cable-fiber network). And if Comcast is already faster than the DSL with which it will compete, it will have no incentive to upgrade its networks to deliver the blazing-fast speeds that fiber provides but the country sorely lacks.

TIME wireless carriers

T-Mobile’s Unlimited Music Streaming Is the Worst for Net Neutrality

Legere
T-Mobile CEO John Legere speaks during an event in Seattle on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 Matthew Williams -- Bloomberg / Getty Images

"Music freedom" looks like a benefit for subscribers, and that's the most dangerous part.

Most things that T-Mobile has done over the last year have made me feel warm and fuzzy inside, but I felt a pit in my stomach on Wednesday when the carrier announced that certain streaming music services won’t count against users’ data limits.

Instead of treating all music services equally, T-Mobile has decided that the most popular streaming music services should get better treatment. If you have a limited data plan on T-Mobile, you won’t come any closer to your monthly cap when using Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, iTunes Radio, iHeartRadio, Slacker Radio and Samsung Milk Music.

This is the most insidious type of net neutrality violation, because it’s being pitched as a benefit. Most users stand to gain from the free data, so they may not even care about the slippery slope they’re on.

T-Mobile is well aware that it’s picking winners and losers, so it’s telling users to vote on other services that they’d like to make the cut. This by itself is messed up — why should I have to petition T-Mobile to give preferential treatment to a particular music service? — but it also underscores why net neutrality is so important. New or obscure streaming music services will remain at a disadvantage for as long as T-Mobile doesn’t recognize them. This, in turn, makes it harder for these services to take off, enforcing a vicious cycle.

What’s really scary is that some tech pundits don’t even see this as a problem. Ross Rubin, an analyst whose opinions I usually respect, wrote on Twitter that the free music streaming is “not really a net neutrality issue” because T-Mobile isn’t favoring any one provider or setting up a “fast lane” for chosen services. But with wireless Internet, data caps are just as important as speed limits. The incentive to use unrestricted services is just as strong.

The good news, for now at least, is that T-Mobile isn’t charging music services for uncapped data, according to The Verge. And as the smallest of the major carriers, T-Mobile doesn’t pose a huge threat to the streaming music market on its own.

But by going down this road — and getting a warm response for doing so — T-Mobile is signaling to its competitors that it’s okay to dole out preferential treatment as long as customers see a short-term benefit. Once the hooks are in, T-Mobile could easily start charging these music services for their customers’ data use, and other carriers could start doing the same. AT&T has already set up a system to allow “sponsored data,” and Verizon has expressed interest in this business model as well.

And there’s nothing you can do about it. We currently don’t have any net neutrality protections in the United States, and it’s unclear whether wireless Internet will even be included as the FCC draws up new rules that can withstand legal scrutiny. Besides, if enough people feel good about what T-Mobile is doing, it’s hard to imagine regulators getting in the way. T-Mobile tries hard to look like it’s putting an arm over your shoulder, but “music freedom” is actually more of a stranglehold.

TIME technology

Verizon, Netflix Spar in Epic Battle Over Who Should Pay for What

Amid an escalating dispute with Verizon, Netflix reminded everyone this week of its standing offer to fix — for free — the problem of slow download speeds, the issue at the heart of rising tensions between the video streaming company, Verizon and a host of other major Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

The latest Netflix-Verizon tiff started last week, when Verizon sent Netflix a cease and desist letter in which Verizon threatened to sue Netflix over new error messages blaming Verizon, as well as AT&T, for streaming issues experienced by customers. Netflix General Counsel David Hyman wrote in a letter Monday that Netflix would not abide by Verizon’s cease and desist, arguing that slow loading speeds are indeed caused by Verizon’s overcrowded network.

But Hyman also added that Verizon had specifically refused to solve the problem by failing to let Netflix install its magic box on Verizon’s network — for free. Netflix’s so-called “Open Connect” box would cache Netflix content so that Internet users can stream Netflix videos quickly and smoothly, all at no cost to the ISP — it could even help ISPs save a few bucks.

The problem, Netflix says, is that Verizon, along with the country’s biggest ISPs — AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Comcast — have all refused to take Netflix up on its offer. Some smaller ISPs, like Cablevision and Suddenlink, have utilized Open Connect, which has been available since 2012. Both Cablevision and Suddenlink now provide among the fastest streaming speeds for Netflix video in the U.S., beating out other cable broadband providers, like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and clocking in 30% faster than Verizon’s FiOS service and nearly twice as fast as AT&T’s U-Verse service, both fiber networks that should smoke cable competition.

So why wouldn’t Verizon and the other big ISPs, want to use Open Connect? The simple answer is that the standoff between Netflix and the big ISPs has very little to do with streaming speeds.

In fact, it’s not really about technology at all.

It’s about money.

Specifically, it’s about who should be responsible for paying to deliver content over the Internet. The big ISPs say that web companies like Netflix should pay ISPs to deliver their content, especially since Netflix alone now accounts for roughly 30% of total evening Internet traffic in the U.S., according to network research company Sandvine. The major ISPs argue that when they move data for major content delivery networks — companies that move data around the Internet but don’t interact directly with Internet users — they get paid a fee for delivering that content. Netflix’s Open Connect box does basically the same thing as those delivery networks, so the ISPs say they should get paid for that, too.

Netflix says that’s just not how the Internet works. Internet subscribers already pay Verizon and the other ISPs for access to the Internet — demanding payment from web content companies on top of that amounts to shameless double dipping, says Ken Florance, Netflix’s VP of content delivery. Advocates for an open Internet say demands like this create a worrisome precedent, wherein ISPs could easily become “gatekeepers” of the Internet, extracting tolls from any web company that wants to reach Internet users.

Mark Taylor, an executive at Level 3 — one of those non-public facing delivery networks — says the problem arises from the fact that the big ISPs enjoy dominant market share in the regions they serve. That means that they don’t have to worry about dissatisfied customers switching to a different provider when the latest episode of Orange Is the New Black is stuck buffering. Instead, these big ISPs are free to “deliberately harm” the quality of their customers’ Internet connections in order to demand fees from web companies, Taylor wrote in a blog post — though it hasn’t been conclusively proven any ISPs have yet done so.

This standoff leaves Netflix in a tough position. Since it has no other way of reaching its customers except through the ISPs’ “pipes,” it can either pay up or stand on the sidelines as its customers struggle to access its product. In February, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings agreed to pay Comcast an undisclosed fee to ensure that its videos streamed quickly. (He later told investors that he was “forced” into making the deal). In April, Netflix reached a similar deal with Verizon.

Despite that deal, Netflix says Verizon customers are still saddled with download speeds that are below last year’s average. Verizon’s fiber service, FiOS, service clocks in behind almost all the major cable companies, according to Netflix’s ISP Speed Index, despite the fact that FiOS’s overall speed tests are generally equal to or better than cable download speeds.

Netflix and the big ISPs have been facing off over these issues for years. With companies like Netflix accounting for an increasing share of Internet traffic and ISPs getting even larger–Comcast, the nation’s biggest ISP, made a bid in February to buy Time Warner Cable, the third biggest–the drama won’t be over any time soon.

TIME Tech Policy

Everything You Need to Know About the Netflix-Verizon Smackdown

AFP/Getty Images

Netflix is once again making headlines because of a very public spat with an Internet Service Provider. This week Netflix placed a message on the buffer screen of its app blaming Verizon and its FiOS Internet service for slow streaming speeds. Verizon took offense and issued a cease-and-desist letter demanding that Netflix remove the message. Now Netflix has just a few days to prove that it was appropriate to blame the ISP, or Verizon may take legal action. This recent bickering is just the latest step in a winding saga that also involves Comcast, Google and the future of the Internet. Here’s a quick Q&A to get you up to speed on the story behind the Netflix-Verizon feud.

OK, so why exactly is Verizon mad at Netflix?

Netflix has been testing a new version of the buffering screen on its app that gives customers more specific information about why a video is loading slowly. On Tuesday a Vox Media employee spotted the new screen, which placed the blame for sluggish streaming squarely on Verizon. “The Verizon network is crowded right now,” a message on the screen reads.

 

 

It is extremely unusual for an online video company to blame a specific ISP for service problems, but Netflix says the message is an effort to “keep [its] members informed.” On Wednesday, Verizon dismissed the message as a “PR stunt.” But Thursday the telco giant issued a cease-and-desist letter to Netflix demanding it remove the accusatory language from its app. “There is no basis for Netflix to assert that issues with respect to playback of any particular video session are attributable solely to the Verizon network,” the letter reads. “As Netflix knows, there are many different factors that can affect traffic on the Internet.”

Different factors, huh? Like what?

As my colleague Sam Gustin has explained, the journey for a video from Netflix’s servers to your living room is pretty complicated. Broadband companies like Verizon and Comcast are responsible for delivering online content across the so-called “last mile” into customers’ homes. But before that happens, Internet data is typically exchanged between consumer-facing ISPs and bandwidth providers that serve as intermediaries between content companies and consumer ISPs. These deals, called peering agreements, have historically been free, but ISPs like Verizon are now demanding money to connect to their network because they are being forced to transfer lots of high-definition video from companies such as Netflix. Stalled negotiations between Verizon and bandwidth provider Cogent earlier this year caused Netflix speeds to fall significantly for Verizon customers.

But I thought Verizon and Netflix already made a deal to fix that?

They did. In April Netflix signed a paid peering agreement with Verizon to directly connect to its broadband network and bypass intermediaries such as Cogent. Netflix, it seems, is not happy with the improvements (if any) so far, so the company has decided to call Verizon out directly to consumers.

Doesn’t Netflix already have beef with some other Internet Service Provider?

Yes, Netflix is quickly becoming the Tupac of online video companies, racking up enemies right and left. In February the company signed a paid peering agreement with Comcast, which first thrust the negotiations between ISPs and content companies into the public conversation. Netflix is very unhappy that it has to pay either Verizon or Comcast to connect to their networks. As Netflix sees it, the ISPs are getting paid twice, once from customers who are promised a certain quality of Internet service per month and then again from content providers who must pay to deliver their video to consumers.

Hey, yeah! That’s not fair! Down with Verizon and Comcast!

Calm down. From the ISPs’ point of view, Netflix is doing a lot of public grandstanding to try to rewrite the rules of interconnection deals that have been around for decades. Netflix was already paying intermediaries like Cogent to deliver its content before streaming speeds slowed earlier this year. Now, the ISPs say, Netflix is trying to get its content delivered for free and force all broadband subscribers pay for the cost of delivering massive amounts of high-definition video instead of just Netflix subscribers. But some ISPs, such as Google Fiber, agree with Netflix and don’t charge companies to establish a connection to their network.

But isn’t this a violation of net neutrality, or something like that?

Not really. Net neutrality rules concern the “last mile” delivery of content into residential customers’ homes. Netflix’s fight with Verizon and Comcast centers on how content is delivered to consumer-facing ISPs and who pays for it. Netflix believes the core issue—that ISPs have the ability to charge different companies different prices to connect to their networks—means these peering issues are in the spirit of the net neutrality debate. Since the net neutrality rules are currently being rewritten, it’s possible that peering agreements could be incorporated into the new regulations. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he will look into Netflix’s paid peering complaints as the new net neutrality governance is drafted.

So are Netflix and Verizon going to court?

In its cease and desist letter, Verizon said Netflix must tell it the names of every customer who saw the accusatory message, along with proof that Verizon’s network was to blame for slow speeds, within five days. Otherwise Verizon reserves the right to pursue “legal remedies.” Netflix has so far not indicated that it plans to remove the messages blaming Verizon. A Netflix spokesman told TIME that the company is trying to provide transparency to consumers and Verizon is “trying to shut down that discussion.” But neither side actually wants a court battle, since the discovery process might dredge up communications during their negotiation process that they’d rather keep private (just ask Apple and Samsung). They’ll most likely come to a private agreement that satisfies both parties.

Screw these companies. When are my movies going to start streaming faster?

Both Netflix and Verizon have said that the streaming speeds would increase over the course of months, not days or weeks. “We are working quickly to implement the network architecture and expect improvements to be experienced across the FiOS footprint throughout 2014,” Verizon spokesman Bob Elek said in an e-mail to TIME. We’ll have a better idea of whether the paid peering deal has been effective when Netflix releases its monthly ranking of ISP streaming speeds later this month. But even if the service quality increases and the legal threats end, the rhetorical battle between Netflix and the major ISPs is likely to continue for quite a while.

Now go on and marinate on that while you watch the new season of Orange Is the Black. Hopefully, with very little buffering.

TIME Media

Verizon Threatens Legal Action Over Netflix Streaming Message

What was a minor skirmish between Verizon and Netflix looks set to become a full-blown battle after Verizon sent Netflix a cease-and-desist letter Thursday demanding that Netflix stop blaming Verizon for slow streaming speeds.

“There is no basis for Netflix to assert that issues with respect to playback of any particular video session are attributable solely to the Verizon network,” the letter reads. “As Netflix knows, there are many different factors that can affect traffic on the Internet.”

In the letter, Verizon also demands that Netflix tell it the names of every customer who saw the message, along with proof that Verizon’s network was to blame for slow speeds, within five days.

“Failure to provide this information may lead us to pursue legal remedies, and Verizon reserves all rights in that regard,” Verizon’s letter reads.

Netflix spokesperson Joris Evers confirmed in an e-mail to TIME that the company received Verizon’s letter. Evers did not back down from Netflix’s previous stance, which is that the message blaming Verizon was a way to “keep [Netflix] members informed” and that they might use such wording to describe other ISPs as well.

“This is about consumers not getting what they paid for from their broadband provider,” Evers told TIME. “We are trying to provide more transparency, just like we do with [our] ISP Speed Index, and Verizon is trying to shut down that discussion.”

The conflict between the two tech giants erupted Wednesday after a Vox Media journalist tweeted an image of his Netflix buffering screen that read “the Verizon network is crowded right now.” The sentence explicitly placed the blame on Verizon for slow streaming, a claim that could be damaging to Verizon’s brand, according to Verizon’s cease-and-desist letter.

Netflix is locked in a fight with several major Internet Service Providers over who should pay to deliver video content into people’s homes. Netflix — and certain niche ISPs, like Google Fiber — believe content should be delivered across the so-called last mile of the broadband network into people’s homes for free. Verizon, Comcast and AT&T believe Netflix and other content providers should have to pay a fee to establish a direct connection to their networks and stream video into customers’ homes. Otherwise, they say, all of their subscribers will have to bear the cost of serving content that only serves Netflix customers.

Though Netflix has tried to conflate such tolls with the ongoing debate about net neutrality, it has agreed to paid peering agreements with both Verizon and Comcast to establish a direct connection to their networks and boost customers’ streaming speeds.

Letter to David Hyman by VictorLuckerson

Read Verizon’s letter to Netflix in full above.

TIME Consumers

John Oliver’s Net Neutrality Rant Crashes FCC Servers

+ READ ARTICLE

Former Daily Show funnyman John Oliver’s recent 13-minute net neutrality rant ended with a plea to Internet commenters the world over to “once in your lives, focus your indiscriminate rage in a useful direction.” Oliver used his new HBO comedy news show Last Week Tonight to try to convince people to take advantage of the FCC’s initial open commenting period regarding the net neutrality debate, which runs from May 15 to June 27.

Oliver’s call to action seems to have worked. The FCC’s comments section under the title “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet” currently has over 47,000 comments and counting, prompting the FCC’s Twitter account to send out two tweets yesterday saying that “technical difficulties” had been affecting its commenting servers.

Things seem to be running smoothly now, however.

TIME Tech Policy

Google and Netflix Are Teaming Up Against Internet Providers

In its heated debate with Comcast over who should pay for the delivery of online content to customers’ homes, Netflix just got a big co-sign from Google. In a blog post published Wednesday, Google said that it doesn’t charge companies like Netflix for a direct interconnection to its Fiber Internet network. Such connections are necessary to deliver online content across the so-called “last mile” of the Internet to users’ computers. Netflix has paid other ISPs, such as Comcast and Verizon, to establish a direction interconnection to their networks and boost streaming speeds.

“We don’t make money from peering or colocation,” a Google Fiber official wrote in the post. “Since people usually only stream one video at a time, video traffic doesn’t bog down or change the way we manage our network in any meaningful way — so why not help enable it?”

Google’s argument is essentially the same as Netflix’s—that Internet service providers have already agreed to provide customers download speeds at a certain rate and should honor those deals without also charging content companies to meet those speeds. Companies like Comcast argue that there are costs associated with delivering the large amount of video data Netflix carries into people’s homes, and Netflix should bear those costs instead of everyone that uses a given ISP. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has said that the FCC will look into Netflix’s complaints regarding paid peering agreements.

Though Google Fiber is an ISP that could theoretically make more money charging companies like Netflix, it’s a minuscule part of Google’s business that is mostly aimed at shaming traditional Internet providers like Comcast into building faster networks (faster Internet means more Google searches, which means more advertisements served). Free peering deals are another opportunity for Google to attempt to set a standard that other ISPs might follow. Larger parts of Google’s business, such as YouTube, would greatly benefit from a future where content companies don’t have to pay ISPs to guarantee their content streams speedily in customers’ homes.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Former Obama Tech Czar: “Fast Lanes” Consistent with Net Neutrality

Barack Obama's former top technology advisor at the White House backs a proposal by the Federal Communications Commission to allow online "fast lanes," saying that they can be managed in a way that protects the open Internet for everyone else.

Aneesh Chopra, President Barack Obama’s former chief technology officer, says the Federal Communications Commission’s proposed rules on net neutrality are in line with what the White House supported in 2010.

The proposed rules, released last Thursday, have been highly controversial because they allow large, rich companies to pay Internet service providers to deliver their content more quickly and at a higher quality.

Open Internet advocates who support “net neutrality,” the idea that all content on the Internet should be treated equally, argue that such provisions, known as “managed services,” are akin to creating “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” on the Internet. They argue that if incumbent companies are allowed to pay for better delivery of their content, then small, shoestring start-ups that can’t afford to pay-up will be disadvantaged, when their content is delivered more slowly, at a lower quality, or made to buffer endlessly.

Chopra says that critique misunderstands the problem. The point of the net neutrality rules is not to ban companies from purchasing access to faster, better service, he said; the point of the rules is to ensure that managed service agreements happen above board.

“In my personal opinion, the provision of managed services is not inconsistent with the principles of an open Internet, provided there is a robust level of oversight ensuring that we are not degrading the Internet service offerings for the rest of us,” he said. “You can’t just say, ‘Go forth and build managed services, good luck.’ You’ve got to have a robust review cycle to make sure that they are living up to standards.”

Chopra, who served at the White House from 2009 to 2012, had a front row seat when the FCC passed net neutrality rules in 2010. The D.C. Circuit Court overturned those rules in January of this year.

In an interview with TIME last week, Chopra weighed in on the FCC’s most recent proposed rules on net neutrality, what sort of role the White House played in 2010, and what should happen next. This interview was edited for length and clarity.

TIME: From your perspective, how has the president approached net neutrality and how has the process has evolved since 2009?

ANEESH CHOPRA: I’ll start with the basic principle, which is that the president cares deeply about an open Internet and has stated so repeatedly… I’d then say that…it’s important to remember that the 2010 rules had some of the same features that seem to have caused some of the controversy [today]. The idea of managed services…is present in those rules, provided that they were not unduly harming the viability of a more robust Internet for everyone else. …[The idea of managed services] is not inconsistent with the idea of an open Internet.

How is allowing for managed services not the same as creating a fast lane? Or does it create a fast lane and that’s ok?

No, no. Let me be specific about a use case. Let’s take the work of telemedicine [where a patient can video chat their doctor]… There are higher order requirements for a telemedicine visit involving a patient and a doctor – quality of service, making sure there aren’t as many obstructions – because people’s lives and medical judgments are on the line. …Today there’s sort of an expensive, complicated private network approach to getting doctors and hospitals to communicate back with patients…and the question is, why not use the Internet? But if you want to built it on top of the Internet you want to have a slightly higher order service. And that should be accommodated provided you’re not cutting the capacity of the core Internet backbone in order to do that…

But how can you allow certain industries—whether it’s medicine, education, entertainment—to access better, faster Internet on a higher order tier, when it’s all the same tube? How does that not reduce the capacity for the rest of us?

I think the challenge here is really the idea that this is not a fixed pie. If I said to you, “There are four lanes and now I’m going to introduce these services I’m describing into one lane, and leave you only three lanes for everything else,” then that may not meet the open Internet standard because you’re degrading service for the rest of us in order to accommodate these other services… But if the healthcare industry understands and has the ability to deliver the services it needs to over the Internet versus the truly private network, that introduces hundreds of millions of dollars of new revenue a year into the system….

And that’s going to demand more investment—

Yeah… The core of the business model for these providers is they estimate the demand for their service. If the market grows, if there’s more revenue coming into the network, companies can reinvest more capital to expand and improve and invest… I just mentioned health care as one example…[but] how many industries in the U.S. economy have fully explored the Internet as a vehicle for a communication and engagement and development? There’s a heck of a lot more to do and it might be the case that the introduction of services of this sort might create a lot more capital to expand the Internet capacity and even build even more…

But since most ISPs enjoy regional monopolies, we have to take whatever speed they give us. What motivation do they have to invest in increasing the capacity of the Internet for the rest of us?

You’re preaching to the choir. That’s why we need to have these rules in place to protect the consumer. You’re making the case for me. That is why we need an open Internet rule…

But if your open Internet rule allows companies to pay ISPs to prioritize their service, then what interest do the ISP themselves have to expand the whole pie—to make sure those “other three lanes” don’t get more clogged?

Well, because FCC chairman [Tom Wheeler] has said that he will not allow the degradation of a robust Internet for all of us in order to accommodate that new service. Unless I misread his comments, I think Chairman Wheeler spoke almost exactly to that issue by suggesting that he will review on a case-by-case basis whether these managed services are achieving the principles of an open Internet for all of us. I think [we need] a robust rule that the chairman writes that allows for him to essentially govern or monitor or regulate these capabilities…

You’re raising a great question. And believe me, I’m a huge—the president was deep on this and i was doing my job to help advise him on these issues where we were allowed to advise. The FCC’s independent, so obviously they are a separate matter. But my personal outside of the government opinion is that…the provision of managed services is not inconsistent with the principles of an open internet provided there is a robust level of oversight on ensuring that we are not degrading the internet service offerings for the rest of us. So you can’t have one without the other. You can’t just sort of say, ‘Go forth and build managed services, good luck.’ You’ve got to have a robust review cycle to make sure that they are living up to the standards. Now, if my memory is right… I believe in the 2010 order it was a reasonableness standard.

“Commercially reasonable.”

Right. So the question is, “What’s the phrase that triggers the kind of review and oversight?” I don’t know the lawyerly answer to that, but I am confident they’ll have something that will give the chairman a role in ensuring that any of these services that I am describing are not at the detriment, are not at the expense of a robust Internet… I am extraordinarily bullish on the need for new open Internet rules. And I think what we’re talking about here are really mechanisms that preserve an open Internet while acknowledging that there are yet unknowns about the birth of new products and services that could leverage the Internet backbone to improve our lives.

Let’s rewind a couple of years to when you were at the White House. There are so many stakeholders in an issue like this, how does the White House institutionally hear them all out and try to develop its own recommendations? Who was meeting with whom? What was the process inside the White House in order to keep the president informed?

So first and foremost, there are very strict rules to follow with regards to how the White House and the executive branch can involve themselves in the FCC’s activities. We file ex parte filings, for example, if the administration has comments it would like to file. Typically we’d do so through the head of the [National Telecommunications and Information Administration]. So official comments on behalf of the executive branch to the FCC we publish through that mechanism.

Every visitor to the White House is publicly available on the visitor logs, so you can search who visited the president and who visits Aneesh Chopra and who visits others in the executive branch. My role was to provide as much advice and counsel to the president and to the ultimate process, which is NTIA and Larry Strickland, who would communicate our administration’s position to the FCC. So we were very careful not to directly engage the FCC on matters on which they have an active proceeding. That stuff is all done formally through channels that were communicated clearly to us by the general counsel.

How involved was the president just in terms of getting briefed on this—how big of an interest did he take in this subject?

I would say that it’s safe to characterize the president’s interest and passion on this issue as genuine and personal. He knows it. He’s talked about it. He talked about it not just domestically but internationally. He made a comment about it when he was in China. He knows the issue well. He is a firm believer in it. And my hope is that the policy that the FCC will carry forth will live up to the president’s vision of an open Internet. And I’m confident from what I’ve seen that the FCC is moving down a productive path.

Did you and the president disagree on these issues?

Generally speaking, we don’t comment on specific conversations with the president so I honor that.

Not specific conversations, but do you and the president see eye to eye on net neutrality?

I fully supported the president’s position wherever I could and did everything in my power to ensure that the policy activities that I worked on reflected the president’s commitments to these issues and to the best of my ability worked to see his vision come to life on a whole range of topics, including net neutrality.

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