FCC Seeks To Stop RoboCalls

If you are like me you just cannot stand robocalls. If you are like me this might be the best news you’ve heard all week. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is now moving to protect us against these nuisance calls as well as spam texts to boot.

The FCC approved a slew of what it calls “declaratory rulings” that affirm your rights to control incoming calls from political campaigns, survey-takers, charities and the like. As part of the package, the FCC made it crystal clear that telephone companies can freely allow you to use robocall-blocking technology.

All this is in response to thousands of consumer complaints about robocalls the FCC fields every month. In fact, the FCC reported that complaints related to unwanted calls are the most typical type of grievance it receives. All told, there were over 250,000 unwanted call complaints in 2014 alone. Apparently, the FCC is tired of fielding calls about annoying calls.

Breaking down the package, the FCC gave a green light to so-called “do-not-disturb” technology. Telephone companies can offer robocall-blocking technologies to consumers and add on market-based solutions that consumers can use to stop unwanted robocalls. Consumers also have the right to revoke consent to receive robocalls and robotexts, even if they previously signed up for them. And if a phone number has been reassigned, companies have to stop calling the number after one call.

The new FCC package theoretically covers just about anything you could think of. The agency tackled third-party consent, affirmed the law’s definition of auto dialers, and reaffirmed that consumers are entitled to the same consent-based protections for texts as they are for voice calls to wireless numbers. The FCC even covered Internet-to-phone text messages and free calls or texts to alert you of possible fraud on your bank account, along with reminders of medication refills and related alerts.

How does all this impact the do-not-call list? This week’s action make no changes to the Do-Not-Call Registry, which restricts unwanted telemarketing calls, but are intended to build on the registry’s effectiveness by closing loopholes and ensuring that consumers are fully protected from unwanted calls, including those not covered by the registry.

Will all of this help keep my home phone quiet in the evening and my inbox clear? Somehow I doubt it.

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FCC Refuses to Delay Net Neutrality Ruling

The FCC appears to be serious about their new net neutrality rules and the big broadband companies like Comcast are very – very unhappy, which in itself is probably a good thing. Laws may finally be catching up with internet and broadcasting changes

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission has denied the requests of several broadband providers and trade groups asking the agency to delay its net neutrality rules.

 

The FCC, late Friday, denied petitions for a stay of its net neutrality rules from Daniel Berninger, founder of the nonprofit Voice Communication Exchange Committee, the American Cable Association, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, USTelecom, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, AT&T and CenturyLink.

Berninger asked the FCC to delay its entire net neutrality order which earlier been approved in February, while the trade groups and broadband providers sought a delay in the portion of the order reclassifying broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a regulated common carrier.

The groups had asked the FCC to delay the rules from going into effect while courts deal with seven lawsuits challenging the regulations.

Public Knowledge, a digital rights groups, praised the FCC for denying the request. Reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act would enable the FCC to enforce several consumer protections, the group said.

The group further suggested that the net neutrality rules will hinder deployment of broadband.

The Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade group for the manufacturers and suppliers of broadband networks, said it was disappointed with the decision. The FCC refused “a fair and reasonable request to delay the imposition of sweeping new regulations of the Internet,” the group said in a statement.
The FCC is obviously having none of the broadband group’s combined argument. That’s was decades of negative press and horrendous customer support will get you.

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New FCC Regulations for Net Neutrality Arrive

This week the 400-page net neutrality order released by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission was released. It includes a long legal defense of the commission’s vote last month to reclassify broadband as a regulated telecommunications service.

net_neutrality1_600x400

While the order is long, the actual changes to the Code of Federal Regulations that the FCC approved amount to only eight pages, running from pages 283 to 290.  An executive summary describing the changes runs from page 7 to page 18.

Here are the highlights of the new FCC regulations.

  • Broadband providers are prohibited from blocking or throttling legal Web traffic and from accepting payment to prioritize traffic.
  • The order justifies a “catch-all” standard against these potential broadband provider actions by actually quoting statesman Benjamin Franklin: “A little neglect may breed great mischief.” 
  • The FCC will also police future broadband practices. The commission will prohibit, on a case-by-case basis, “practices that unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage the ability of consumers to reach the Internet content, services, and applications of their choosing or of edge providers to access consumers using the Internet.”
  • The commission will allow broadband subscribers and Web companies to file complaints about net neutrality violations.
  • Broadband access is now a regulated telecommunications service, subject to some rules governing the traditional telephone network.
  • The commission, however, will forebear from applying large parts of Title II of the Telecommunications Act, the portion of the law that covers regulated telecom services, to broadband providers. “This is Title II tailored for the 21st Century.”
  • The order does not apply the new rules to back-end interconnection agreements among ISPs, backbone providers and Web services like Netflix. It does however allow the commission to regulate those deals in the future. [Pages 10 and 11.] While the FCC has more than a decade of experience looking at last-mile broadband practices, it lacks a “similar depth of background in the Internet traffic exchange context.”
  • Reasonable network management by broadband providers is allowed, but defined as a practice with a “primarily technical network management justification.”
  • Mobile broadband is subject to the same net neutrality rules as fixed broadband.
  • Mobile data plans that allow for sponsored data, for example, music downloads not counted against a data cap, are not prohibited by the order. The commission will address mobile data caps on a case-by-case basis.
  • So-called specialized services that do not provide Internet access, including some VoIP services, online heart monitors and energy consumption sensors, are not covered by the rules.

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The Feds Propose a New Bill of Rights

2000px-US-FederalTradeCommission-Seal.svgIt is becoming obvious that the result of the endless security breaches during the past two years has awakened a sleeping giant in the federal government. There have already been moves by the feds in respect to taking a larger role in governing and setting laws in respect to how our data is used and managed by corporations. Now a “bill of rights” is being proposed.

Under a proposed new privacy bill of rights released this past Friday by the Obama administration U.S. businesses that collect personal data could soon be required to describe their privacy and security practices and give consumers control over their personal information

The proposal would require companies and nonprofit groups to collect and retain only the personal data they need to operate. The proposal does however allow industry groups to submit their own codes of conduct to the Federal Trade Commission that would shield their company from the codes issued by the FTC enforcement actions.

Organizations adopting codes of conduct “shall have a complete defense to each alleged violation” of the privacy rules if they demonstrate compliance with the industry-developed codes, according to the draft bill’s language.

The proposed bill of rights, based on a 2012 Obama administration proposal, is needed because companies are collecting more and more personal data, the White House said.

I really have no idea at this point if this “bill of rights” will be adopted and even if it the right thing to do but I do believe something has to change in the way organizations are allowed to collect and use personal data. In addition many organizations have also proven that they are also unable to protect the data they collect.

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FCC Rules on Net Neutrality

Well today has finally arrived in respect to the FCC’s decision in respect to net neutrality and it went down like most of us expected and hoped for.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted to approve new net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility over the objections of the commission’s Republican members and large broadband providers.

The commission voted 3-2 today to approve net neutrality rules that prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic and from offering paid traffic prioritization services. The commission’s vote on the new rules prompted loud applause from the audience at the FCC meeting.



Of course the new regulations will almost certainly face a court challenge from broadband providers, and a court case could drag out for years. Verizon Communications, AT&T and Comcast have all publicly opposed reclassification of broadband. They see profits and control diminishing in respect to internet services and the ISP’s will not go down without a fight.

The rules are basically grounded in a reclassification of broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a more heavily regulated telecommunications service, although FCC staff said the agency will refrain from applying about 700 traditional telecom rules, such as price regulation and forced sharing of networks with competitors.

The order applies net neutrality regulations to mobile, as well as fixed and broadband providers although smaller broadband providers will be exempt for a period of time. The new rules will prohibit broadband providers from acting as gatekeepers to Web content.

The FCC’s vote comes after a year of debate over net neutrality rules. In early 2014, a U.S. appeals court overturned net neutrality rules the agency passed in 2010, saying the FCC pegged the rules to the wrong section of the Telecommunications Act.

There is sure to be some court battles with the big broadband providers with republicans lining up with the them to battle the FCC and democrats. For me, I stand with the FCC on this one.

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FCC Overturns State Laws Limiting Municipal Broadband Plans

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Today the U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted to overturn large parts of two state laws that limit local governments from funding and building broadband networks.

Commissioners, in a 3-2 vote moved to preempt laws in both North Carolina and Tennessee that limit the expansion of existing municipal broadband networks in the two states.

The FCC order, coming in response to petitions from a city in each state, does not apply to laws that limit municipal broadband networks in about 20 other states. But the vote signals how the agency is likely to act if it receives similar petitions from cities in other states, FCC officials have said.

The FCC action will help bring broadband competition to new areas, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said. “You can’t say you’re for broadband, and then turn around and endorse limits on it,” he said. ‘You can’t say you’re for competition, then deny local officials the right to offer competing choices.”

Several states have generated “thickets of red tape” meant to limit city-funded broadband networks from offering service Wheeler said.

State groups and some congressional Republicans argue that municipal broadband services use taxpayer money to compete with private broadband providers. In a handful of cases, municipal broadband projects have run into financial problems after large initial investments, critics note.

This is another piece of evidence that internet access is in the process of being classified as a “public utility” in much the same way as telecommunications and electricity.

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FCC Starts Lining Up It’s Net Neutrality Game Plan

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Today Tom Wheeler, The FCC Chairman publicly rejected the notion of Internet toll lanes which have been all the buzz by which big companies could (and probably would) charge consumers ridiculously large fees in order to receive preferential treatment and greater access to consumers’ homes and businesses.

However Wheeler compares Internet providers to public utilities. Like utilities, the Internet has become a common carrier in very much the same way the telephone has done. No matter who you are, you likely rely on the Internet to get your job done, communicate with others and conduct research.

Wheeler promises to submit proposed new rules to the full commission for a vote on Feb. 26. His goal is “preserve the Internet as an open platform for innovation and free expression.”

The notion of net neutrality is especially important to startup companies and innovators who need equal Internet access, just like Google, Apple, Facebook, Netflix.

Wheeler seeks to apply Title II of the 1934 Communications Act to the Internet. The 1934 act was intended to prohibit radio, phone and telegraph operators from price gouging and restricting access to critical service. The FCC obviously has concluded that the internet is just the latest addition to this very important communication tools which impact all of our lives.

Of course there are detractors to a free an open internet. For example Michael Powell, head of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, has issued a statement denouncing the proposal, saying it “goes far beyond the worthy goal of establishing important net neutrality protections.” Powell was FCC chairman under President George W. Bush.

As you can see, the very basic question of should the internet be an open platform to everyone has turned into a political football with democrats and republicans lining up on opposing sides. For example, as compared to Michael Powell, President Obama has made clear that there should not be fast lanes for the corporations that can afford to pay. There is no doubt that Tom Wheeler is implementing the president’s vision. This “open internet” vision is shared by the majority of Americans.

Stay tuned…

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Net Neutrality Vote Grows Near

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Federal Communication Commission(FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler waits for a hearing at the FCC December 11, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Federal courts have recently ruled that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lacks the Congressionally granted authority to regulate internet service providers (ISPs) at present.

Common Carrier Reclassification Possibility? 

This week the FCC’s Chairman Thomas Edgar Wheeler will internally unveil a plan to revamp and revitalize the FCC’s net neutrality agenda. In its earliest form, his plan would have replaced net neutrality with a set of laissez-faire rules so ineffectual that even the worst offenders would be likely to embrace “net neutrality” in its new watered down form. However after widespread complaints and amid the threat that his plan would be ruled as legally groundless, Wheeler has been forced to modify his plan.  Net neutrality activists hope his new plan will be better, and more legally sound than the original attempt.

At the heart of the plan would reportedly be an order to reclassify most internet service providers as “telecommunications services” which would change current classification as “information services.”  That change would be truly be a crucial change because Congress has already granted the FCC power to enforce a “vibrant and competitive free market” (see: 47 U.S.C. § 230 Chapter 5, Subchapter II), but that provision applies solely to telecommunications services and not other types of services, such as “information services.”

For the everyday internet user this odd distinction may seem like a bunch of bureaucratic silliness, but it was seemingly well intended.  The thought here is to avoid regulating emerging technologies with strict rules that has governed mature markets such as the telecommunications phone marketplace.

The distinction makes sense to me however the problem is that the deadline for re-codification when a technology matures is purely defined.  As a result of this poor definition, cable internet once a luxury has became a ubiquitous service and to date it’s not recognized as such under the FCC’s regulatory policy which of course has led to cable service poorly controlled and consistently ranking new the bottom of customer service ranking annually.

Cable Carrier

What’s The Worse That Can Happen if This Goes Wrong?

In a healthy, competitive services market net neutrality might be a meaningless. However in many markets just one or two corporate cable internet providers maintain a monopoly on local communications. Sadly this monopoly situation was partially created by the government who has helped feed the monster.

As a result a powerful Internet service provider (ISP) like Comcast often (and usually) squeezes additional tolls out of the internet’s top content providers like Netflix. The fees fees pad ISP profits while at the same time raising the rates of their customers.

The obvious solution here is to break up the collusive ISPs that have a monopoly grip on the market.  But the U.S. government, fed by the telecommunications lobbyists has shown little interest in playing the role of monopoly breaker. Of Teddy Roosevelt where are you with your big stick when we need you. If anything the government has appeared content to let things proceed in the opposite direction, as evidenced by its consideration of the proposed $45.2B USD merger of the nation’s two largest cable internet firms, Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

Of course as you might guess Comcast has already aggressively moved to violate net neutrality, looking to offer customers “unlimited” internet lines and high speed connections, then denying them the service they paid for.

And finally since there is no alternative if customers want to view high speed video from Netflix or other service providers, those service firms (such as Netflix have been forced to pay increasing fees or have their services deteriorated by reduced bandwidth controlled by the likes of Comcast.  Then the services effectively pass these fees on to consumers, forcing them to pay twice. You can see this is a vicious circle.

Decisions May Be Finally Growing Near

President Obama has recently pushed the FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to pursue reclassification.

Now Wheeler has shown signs of changing his opinion.  In comments to the press in January at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), he stated:

“It became obvious that [the term] ‘commercially reasonable’ [in the original proposal] could be interpreted as what is reasonable for the ISPs, not what’s reasonable for consumers or innovators. And that’s the wrong question and the wrong answer. Because the issue here is how do we make sure that consumers and innovators have access to open networks.
We’re going to propose rules that say that no blocking, no throttling, [no] paid prioritization, all that list of issues, and that there is a yardstick against which behavior should be measured. And that yardstick is ‘just and reasonable.”
The FCC’s final draft is expected to include reclassification plans which should be released internally on February 5. This new draft whould be very interesting. Stay tuned.

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FCC Changes 7 Smartphone Rules

20150129fcc_wifiThe FCC has been working to protect smartphone users and this week 7 more rules were changed to actually protect consumers.

Here is the rundown.

1. Carriers Can No Longer Throttle ‘unlimited” Data Plans

The Federal Trade Commission has ordered prepaid mobile provider TracFone to pay a fine of $40 million. What was TracFone “guilty of? It throttled (deliberately slowed down) the data connectivity of customers who had been sold “unlimited” data plans.

Mobile data providers like AT&T and others often used to have it both ways: They charged high fees for “unlimited” plans, whose performance slowed to a crawl once the user reached a specific monthly amount of data.

Both throttled plans and unlimited plans will still be legal. But they can no longer be the same plans.

2. Broadband Defined

Last week the Federal Communications Commission redefined what “broadband” means. The previous definition of “broadband” was a meager 4Mbps for downloads and 1Mbps for uploads. That standard was set four years ago.

The new minimums are 25Mbps for downloads and upload speeds of at least of 3Mbps.

3. What! Hotels Can’t Block Wi-Fi Hotspots Anymore

marriottI can’t believe that this had been going on, but apparently it was.

Long story short: Some hotels and other businesses, and most famously Marriott hotels, wanted to force hotel guests to pay up for a separate Wi-Fi connection for every device used in the hotel.

To enforce this money-making scheme, Marriott actually blocked the use of personal Wi-Fi hotspots (devices that connect to a single Internet connection, then make that connection available to multiple devices via Wi-Fi) at one hotel.

4. 911 System and GPS Improved 

If you’re indoors, on the other hand, there are no rules for making the 911 system able to find you.

This week, the FCC approved new rules that require carriers to, within two years, start using technology that’s able to provide the location of a 911 caller within 50 meters in at least 40% of cases.

5. Wi-Fi on Planes Improved

Gogo, which provides Wi-Fi service on airplanes, recently got approval from the FCC for a new service called 2Ku to be installed on 1,000 aircraft. The new service is satellite-based and several times faster than most airplane Wi-Fi systems — up to 70Mbps.

This new higher speed from Gogo should be available to travelers by the second half of the year.

6. No More Emergency Alerts in Movie Promotions

The FCC recently fined Viacom and ESPN $1.4 million for using official emergency alert tones in a promotion for a movie called Olympus Has Fallen. The warning sound was part of the movie, but people who heard it might have thought there was a real emergency.

7. Complaining Made Easy

The FCC this month launched a new website where consumers can complain about their cable, broadband and wireless service providers.

The new site replaces an old one that was plagued with antiquated design that made filing a complaint difficult.

Here’s the new site.

There is hope for consumers as these new rules by the FCC demonstrate.

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