TIME Web

Obama Signals Opposition to ‘Fast Lanes’ in Support of Net Neutrality

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama speaks during an event at Cross Campus, on Thursday, Oct. 9, 2014, in Santa Monica, Calif. Evan Vucci—AP

"I think it is what has unleashed the power of the Internet and we don't want to lose that or clog up the pipes"

President Barack Obama reiterated his support for the principle known as net neutrality Thursday, signaling he would be opposed to the proposed Federal Communications plan to create a so-called Internet “fast-lanes.”

Speaking at a town hall at a technology co-working space in Santa Monica, Calif., Obama said a level playing field on the Internet was one of his earliest campaign promises. “On net neutrality, I made a commitment very early on that I am unequivocally committed to net neutrality,” Obama said, earning a round of applause from the tech-minded crowd. “I think it is what has unleashed the power of the Internet and we don’t want to lose that or clog up the pipes.”

“I know that one of the things people are most concerned about is paid prioritization, the notion that somehow some folks can pay a little more money and get better service, more exclusive access to customers through the Internet: that is something I’m opposed to,” Obama said. “I was opposed to it when I ran and I continue to be opposed to it now.”

The FCC proposal would require Internet service providers to maintain a baseline of service, but would allow some companies to pay for preferential service, creating a two-tiered Internet that essentially undermines the premise of net neutrality. The issue has stretched thin a 2008 campaign promise Obama made when he said, “I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality.”

Though Obama pledged that the issue would be front-and-center on his mind when nominating commissioners to the regulating agency, the current controversial proposal had the backing of three commissioners he appointed, including chairman Tom Wheeler, a former lobbyist for the telecom industry.

Thursday’s remarks were the President’s most detailed comment on the issue of net neutrality since the FCC proposal was announced earlier this year. Obama did not specifically weigh in on the proposal, but said he expected the final rule to be consistent with his campaign promise.

“Now the FCC is an independent agency,” Obama said. “They came out with some preliminary rules that I think the netroots and a lot of folks in favor of net neutrality were concerned with. My appointee, Tom Wheeler, knows my position. I can’t—now that he’s there, I can’t just call him up and tell him exactly what to do. But what I’ve been clear about, what the White House has been clear about, is that we expect that whatever final rules to emerge, to make sure that we’re not creating two or three or four tiers of Internet. That ends up being a big priority of mine.”

TIME technology

Most Americans Don’t Want Internet ‘Fast Lanes,’ Poll Finds

BU005714
Spike Mafford—Getty Images

A particularly timely finding, as the public comment period for Federal Communications Commission's proposed rule on net neutrality draws to a close

Two-thirds of Americans don’t like the idea of big web companies paying Internet service providers (ISPs) to deliver their content more quickly via so-called “fast lanes” on the Internet, according to a recent poll.

CALinnovates, a San Francisco-based coalition that works on public policy in technology, asked people earlier this month about whether they thought rules should be in place “prioritizing Internet traffic – such as one company willing to pay over another.” Well over half of the respondents–63%–replied either that all traffic should be treated equally or, if priority gets placed, the reason behind the prioritization shouldn’t be because one company pays for it.

The results of the poll, released Thursday, arrive just as the end of the public comment period draws near for the Federal Communications Commission’s sharply criticized proposed rule on net neutrality, the idea that ISPs cannot discriminate against certain web content. The deadline is Sept. 15.

The FCC’s proposed rule on net neutrality has come under fire in recent months, resulting in the Commission’s receipt of a record-breaking 1.4 million public comments.

On Sept. 10, a coalition of tech companies, consumer advocates and public policy groups organized a “day of action” called Battle for the Net, in protest of the FCC’s proposed rule, which generated nearly 2.5 million calls and emails to members of Congress and more than 700,000 comments to the FCC. That coalition advocates for the FCC to categorize ISPs under “Title II” of their statute, which would give the agency the legal jurisdiction to strictly regulate the broadband industry.

When it came to the concept of “net neutrality” within CALinnovate’s poll, however, Americans responded more ambivalently, CALInnovates Executive Director Mike Montgomery told TIME in a conference call. Two-thirds of those polled would like “new laws to deal with fast-paced changes that occur in technology,” but three-fourths weren’t sure the Federal government is capable of keeping up with the pace of technological innovation.

The Internet Association, an umbrella group that includes Google, Amazon, Ebay, Facebook and other web giants, also opposes the FCC’s proposed rule, but like many of those polled by CALinnovates, stops short of advocating for a specific solution.

“Protecting an open Internet, free from discriminatory or anticompetitive actions by broadband gatekeepers should be the cornerstone of net neutrality policy,” said Michael Beckerman, the President and CEO of the Internet Association. “The FCC should leave all of its legal authorities on the table to accomplish this goal.”

TIME technology

Net Neutrality Campaign Claims Victory in ‘Battle for the Net’

Protesters hold a rally before the FCC meeting on net neutrality proposal in Washington, DC.
Protesters hold a rally near the building before the FCC meeting on net neutrality proposals on May, 15, 2014 in Washington, DC. Bill O'Leary—The Washington Post/Getty Images

But the war over internet freedom isn't over

A coalition of tech companies and Open Internet activists claimed victory Wednesday evening after a day-long campaign, Battle for the Net, succeeded in swamping the federal government with millions of public comments demanding that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) scrap its proposed rules governing net neutrality and write new ones.

By midday, members of Congress were receiving an average of 1,000 calls per minute, according to Free Press, a public advocacy organization that underwrote the campaign in support of net neutrality, the notion that Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all web content equally.

Meanwhile, the FCC reported that its rule on net neutrality, which is open for public comments until Sept. 15, has officially
generated more public comments–1.4 million and counting–than any other rule making in its history.

The coalition of Internet activists that organized today’s campaign, Battle for the Net, includes 27 progressive advocacy organizations, including Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as dozens of tech companies, including Twitter, Tumblr, Netflix, Kickstarter and Etsy. Vimeo, which is also a member, produced its own net neutrality video Wednesday.

Those companies, along with thousands of smaller websites, took part in a “day of action” Wednesday in which they displayed on their home pages an icon symbolizing a slow-loading website. When visitors click on that icon, they are invited to sign the Battle for the Net’s letter to the FCC and to contact their member of Congress.

The campaign used a nifty new technology that allowed visitors to simply type-in their phone number and zip code, and the app would figure out who their member of Congress was. Almost immediately, a visitor’s phone would start ringing and when they answered–presto!–they were already connected to their member of Congress’s office.

The pro-net neutrality campaign has drawn an enormous amount of attention from the large cable and telecom companies in recent weeks, no more so than Comcast, the biggest ISP in the country.

Comcast, which is hoping that the FCC and the Justice Department will approve it’s $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable in the next few months, has gone out of its way to underscore its support for net neutrality.

“We want you to know that Comcast has no desire to break the Internet – or to do anything else to disturb its fundamental openness,” wrote David Cohen, a Comcast senior vice president in a press release Wednesday evening. “We support maintaining an open Internet, and a role for the FCC ensuring that.”

Open Internet advocates dismissed Cohen’s promises as spin, arguing that Comcast and the FCC are simply using a different definition of “net neutrality” so that they can claim to support it.

Battle for the Net, which was joined by the Internet Association–an umbrella group that includes Google, Amazon and Facebook–says that net neutrality is fundamentally incompatible with so-called “paid prioritization” deals, which allow wealthy companies to pay ISPs to deliver their content more quickly on “Internet fast lanes.”

The FCC’s proposed rules on net neutrality, which Comcast supports, allow for “paid prioritization” deals.

TIME technology

Net Neutrality Advocates Turn Up the Volume

Top Congressional Democrats join a coalition of Internet businesses and activists in fighting to ensure Internet service providers treat all web content the same

A vast coalition of Internet businesses and activists, as well as two top Congressional Democrats, launched a series of loud new public relations campaigns Wednesday in support of “net neutrality,” the notion that Internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all web content equally, no matter the source.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on the Federal Communications Commission Tuesday to prevent ISPs, such as Comcast, Verizon or Time Warner Cable, from treating web content differently.

Their appeals came just a day before the Internet Association, Battle for the Net, and the American Sustainable Business Council launched new campaigns Wednesday calling for the FCC to pass new Open Internet protections.

While Leahy, Pelosi, and the advocacy groups are not all united behind one solution, all have slammed the FCC’s current proposed rules on net neutrality, which were first presented in April and may be finalized as early as this year. The public comment period ends Sept. 15.

The FCC’s proposed rules have been sharply criticized for allowing web companies to pay ISPs to deliver their content more quickly and in higher quality than companies that do not pay for faster service. Internet advocates argue that allowing such “paid prioritization”—widely known as Internet “fast lanes”—would give the richest incumbent companies, which can can afford to pay a premium, an unfair advantage over struggling start-ups and mom-and-pop operations that often operate on shoestring budgets.

Others worry that such fast lanes would fundamentally undermine the Wild West-style free market of ideas and commerce on the Internet, where you don’t have to be a billionaire to attract millions of new customers overnight to your site.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has insisted repeatedly that paid prioritization would help vital new industries that rely on lightning-fast download speeds, particularly in the e-medicine and online education spaces, to make their way online. Leahy will hold a Congressional hearing next week on the subject.

The Internet Association, an umbrella group uniting Silicon Valley’s biggest, most powerful tech giants—including Google, Amazon, Facebook and Ebay—launched a new campaign Wednesday afternoon. It includes a video and an online comic demanding better net neutrality protections. The association also submitted formal comments (PDF) to the FCC warning the agency to ignore the “flawed arguments of broadband gatekeepers that seek to control speech on the Internet, censor content, and segregate the Internet into fast and slow lanes.”

The Internet Association’s position on net neutrality is particularly important in the public dialogue because its member companies are mainly large incumbents that could theoretically benefit from paid prioritization deals edging out their smaller competitors. Instead, these large companies have insisted that the Internet marketplace must remain friendly to the tiniest start-ups, which are often the source of “the next big thing.”

Meanwhile, another coalition of Internet advocates convened Wednesday behind a different, similar campaign, Battle for the Net, which is also critical of the FCC’s proposed rules and calls for better ones. Battle for the Net includes 27 progressive advocacy organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and MoveOn.org, as well as dozens of tech companies, including Twitter, Tumblr, Netflix, Kickstarter, Etsy, and Vimeo.

Those companies, along with thousands of smaller websites, took part in a “day of action” Wednesday in which they displayed on their home pages an icon symbolizing a slow-loading website. When visitors click on that icon, they are invited to sign the Battle for the Net’s letter to the FCC and to contact their member of Congress.

While the Battle for the Net coalition’s gripes are similar to those of the Internet Association, the Battle for the Net goes farther in pointing at a specific solution. It, along with Pelosi, asks that the FCC categorize ISPs as a “Title II” industry, a move that would give the agency legal jurisdiction to strictly regulate the companies that own the Internet “pipes” — or the fiber that the Internet runs on. The Internet Association, while leaving what is known as the “Title II option” on the table, has stopped short of actively advocating for that end.

The debate over net neutrality is at this point intrinsically intertwined with a discussion of the Title II option, which itself hinges on a rather arcane detail in administrative law. In January, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the FCC’s previous rules on net neutrality on the grounds that the agency does not have legal jurisdiction over ISPs since they do not fall under “Title II” of the regulators’ statute. Public advocacy groups, like Free Press, which organized Battle for the Net, argue that the FCC should simply fix that problem, since it’s up to the agency to decide how it categorizes different industries.

But here’s where the discussion really heats up. Big ISPs, like Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable, as well as their trade associations, have said that the Title II option, which would allow the FCC to treat ISPs like telephone companies, would unleash a storm of suffocating regulation. They say that if they are regulated “like public utilities,” they would have no incentive to invest hundreds of millions every year in researching and developing new technologies, much less maintaining and improving the network of pipes and wires that connect American homes to the World Wide Web.

Advocates for the Title II option say the ISPs, which enjoy monopolies and duopolies in most American cities and towns, should be regulated strictly, but argue that categorizing ISPs under Title II would actually lead to fewer regulations. The categorization would allow the FCC to pass a simple, blanket, easy-to-enforce rule on net neutrality for all ISPs, they say, rather than going at it piecemeal. Some advocates say that by avoiding the Title II option, the FCC is wading into unnecessary red tape. The agency’s current proposed rules call for the formation of a special ombudsman office within the FCC where federal bureaucrats would manually review when web companies paid ISPs for premium service.

The issue of net neutrality rocketed into national headlines earlier this year after Netflix accused big ISPs, like Comcast and Verizon, of deliberately slowing down streaming speeds and causing streaming videos to buffer. After Netflix paid the ISPs a fee, the download speeds increased. ISPs say such deals are only fair now that a handful of companies, like Netflix and Google’s YouTube, dominate the majority of web traffic during primetime hours.

It’s unclear when exactly the debate surrounding net neutrality will end. The FCC could finalize its proposed rules on net neutrality in the next few months or, if public pressure mounts, it could be forced to return to the drawing board early next year. President Obama, who has been a vociferous advocate for net neutrality–and a critic of “fast lanes” on the Internet–has stopped short, but just barely, of condemning the FCC’s proposed rules.

With rising populist anger, a raft of new PR campaigns, and Silicon Valley tech firms set to be major political campaign contributors in 2016, something’s likely to break soon.

TIME Web

Netflix, Mozilla, Vimeo and Others to Launch Online Protest for Net Neutrality

Erlendsson attends a pro-net neutrality Internet activist rally in the neighborhood where U.S. President Barack Obama attended a fundraiser in Los Angeles
A protester attends a net-neutrality rally in Los Angeles on July 23, 2014 Jonathan Alcorn—Reuters

"We believe in the free and open Internet"

A group of popular websites that rely on speedy Internet service — including Netflix, Vimeo and Reddit — will launch an online protest Wednesday against controversial proposed changes to “net neutrality.”

The coalition of companies, who call themselves Team Internet, will use the spinning “still loading” symbol on banners of protest against the world of frustratingly slow Internet they say could come about if the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) nixes net neutrality. Clicking on the banners will link to more information about net neutrality, the organizers say.

“We believe in the free and open Internet, with no arbitrary fees or slow lanes for sites that can’t pay,” write the organizers on their website. “If [cable companies] win, the Internet dies.”

Since May, the FCC has been weighing changes to its regulations on “net neutrality” — the 2010 rules requiring Internet service providers to treat all web traffic the same. The changes would allow cable companies to grant paying customers faster service, but ban them from slowing down, or throttling, the access of nonpaying companies. The FCC has already lost two court cases brought by cable companies who have challenged the legality of its existing net-neutrality rules.

Opponents to the changes, including much of Silicon Valley, have said that the revisions would in effect create an Internet of haves and have-nots, with paying companies zipping onto users’ screens and nonpaying ones lurching through the system.

“Consumers, not broadband gatekeepers, should pick the winners and losers on the Internet,” read a Netflix statement in the Financial Times. “Strong net neutrality rules are needed to stop Internet service providers from demanding extra fees or slowing delivery of content to consumers who already have paid for Internet access.”

Tim Karr, senior director of strategy at Free Press, one of the organizers of the protest, told the Wall Street Journal that the goal of the protest is to marshal public opposition to the FCC’s proposed changes and encourage people to reach out to the FCC and Congress. The FCC has already received more than 1.2 million comments criticizing the proposed revisions.

Other participants in the protest include Kickstarter, Foursquare, Urban Dictionary, Upworthy, Grooveshark and Mozilla, among others. Any Internet user with a website can post the protest banner or change their social-media avatars to the “spinning wheel of death.”

TIME technology

FCC Chairman Says All the Right Things, But Critics Remain Suspicious

US-POLITICS-BUDGET-FCC
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler gives testimony before the Financial Services and General Government Subcommittee hearing on "Review of the President's FY2015 funding request and budget justification for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)."on March 27, 2014 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images

America's lack of broadband competition is "intolerable," Wheeler said

Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler gave an impassioned speech Thursday, saying it’s “intolerable” that 75% of Americans have no choice between Internet Service Providers offering fixed broadband at speeds fast enough for modern use. Wheeler also called for the government and industry to “do everything in our power” to increase competition among ISPs like Comcast and Verizon, and to create a robust public policy that protects a vibrant, dynamic, and open Internet.

On the surface, Wheeler’s speech hit all the right notes with tech entrepreneurs, open Internet advocates and consumer rights groups. But behind the scenes, it was met with a dose of cynicism.

Critics pointed out that Wheeler has previously sworn allegiance to popular concepts like “net neutrality,” the notion that ISPs must treat all web content equally, while simultaneously advancing federal rules that many tech entrepreneurs decry for betraying that concept. Advocates have submitted a record-breaking 1.3 million comments to the FCC in recent months over the issue, many of which pan Wheeler’s version of “net neutrality” rules.

Similarly, Wheeler’s fervent call for more competition–“competition, competition, competition!” he said repeatedly during his speech–in the broadband market was met with approval from most in the audience. But it seemed to some consumer advocates to be disingenuous in a climate where the FCC is widely expected approve of a massive planned merger between Comcast and Time Warner Cable in the next six months.

“The real proof will be in the agency’s actions and not just its speeches,” wrote advocacy group Free Press’ policy director, Matt Wood, in a prepared statement.

In one part of his speech that will likely draw support from many in the Internet advocacy community, Wheeler re-defined high speed broadband Internet as having download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (mbps). The FCC’s official definition is still only 4mbps, which doesn’t make sense, Wheeler said, in a world where it takes 5mbps to download a single high-definition video, much less to access streaming apps for educational or healthcare purposes.

Quibbling over the definition of high speed broadband matters in this highly politicized space. Broadband service providers often claim at Congressional hearings and in legal filings that they have lots of competition from other ISPs, but they cite as examples rival companies that offer what most Americans would consider unacceptably slow service. For example, in the legal filing for its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, Comcast claims that it’s engaged in “robust competition” with telecom and mobile phone companies, many of which offer DSL or other services with download speeds significantly slower than 25 mbps.

On this point, Wheeler was clear: “At 25mbps [download speeds], there is simply no competitive choice for most Americans,” he said, unequivocally.

Wheeler, who spoke at 1776’s start-up space in downtown Washington, D.C., spent a good portion of his speech laying out what he called his “Agenda for Broadband Competition.” It centers on not only encouraging competition between existing broadband service providers, but also creating new competition—a turn of phrase that seemed to suggest that the FCC may move more actively into citizen-supported municipal broadband.

“Where meaningful competition is not available, the commission will work to create it,” Wheeler said. He also cited recent petitions asking the FCC to review recent laws, most of which were underwritten by local cable and telecom companies, that make it illegal for cities to create their own broadband. Eliminating such local laws would allow municipalities, like Chattanooga, Tennessee, to build and maintain their own Internet networks, competing directly with incumbent telecom and cable companies–a highly controversial idea in this space.

Wheeler also pointed to the fact that in cities where Google Fiber has begun offering super-fast gigabit download speeds, local cable and telecom companies, which have balked in the past at the cost of investing in faster networks, have recently increased the speeds of their service. He added that while the majority of Americans have access to 100mbps download speeds, that’s just not enough.

“Just because Americans have access to next generation broadband doesn’t mean they have competitive choices.”

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 20

1. Smart labels that monitor food can reduce food-related illness and waste.

By Adrienne LeFrance in the Atlantic

2. With a “Right to Work” law that lets refugees earn a living, Uganda avoids the pitfalls of wartime migration. Other countries can too.

By Gregory Warner in National Public Radio

3. Integrate the protests: Why Ferguson needs a “Freedom Summer.”

By Jay Caspian Kang in the New Yorker

4. To deter Putin and defuse the crisis in Ukraine, policymakers must be creative, strategic and collaborative.

By David Ignatius in the Washington Post

5. Extra ISP fees for companies like Netflix only stifle Internet innovation.

By Reed Hastings in Wired

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

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.

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