Understanding Net Neutraility

Net neutrality, the principle that protects the free and open internet as we know it today, is under serious attack.

Net neutrality is not a partisan issue, and it don’t care matter where you fall on the political spectrum. The repeal of net neutrality will affect you as an internet user. Here’s what you need to know about this vital fight for the open web.

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What is Net Neutraility?

Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) must treat all internet traffic equally, regardless of its content.

This is how the internet currently works. When you jump online, it doesn’t matter if you visit MakeUseOf, Google, your friend’s blog, or watch some videos on YouTube — they all work the same way. Your ISP cannot check your network packets to see what sites you’re visiting and decide to slow your browsing down because it doesn’t like what you’re doing.

Without net neutrality, ISPs could block content they didn’t agree with, prioritize certain sites over others, and force websites to pay up for the privilege of being fast.

The Current United States Net Neutrality Law

In June 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in favor of net neutrality. It did so by reclassifying broadband as a “common carrier” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Essentially, this places ISPs under regulation like airlines and phone companies are.

Until 2015, net neutrality was hotly debated among ISPs, their users, and the U.S. government. In the early days of the internet, ISPs provided internet access through dial-up service via phone companies’ lines. Since phone companies were already bound to Title II, they couldn’t mess with your connection. And back then, there were lots of ISPs in the game, like AOL, Earthlink, and NetZero. So if yours tried anything shady, you could simply switch to another provider.

Fast-forward to modern times, and high-speed connections are vital for streaming video, playing online video games, and more. Only a few major ISPs are in play now. Chances are that you subscribe to Comcast, Verizon, or Spectrum/Charter Communications for internet service. But the problem with that is…

ISPs Have Shown How They Feel About Net Neutrality

The reason that the FCC moved to reclassify broadband under Title II was due to ISPs abusing their power. FreePress has gathered a great sampling of offenses; among the worst:

  • In 2005, Comcast blocked peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent without telling its users.
  • When the iPhone was new, AT&T forced Apple to block Skype on the iPhone unless users were on Wi-Fi. It didn’t like that Skype provided a calling alternative to its services.
  • From 2011-2013, when Google Wallet (now Android Pay) was new, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon all blocked access to it. The reason? It competed with a similar app that they all had a stake in.
  • In 2012, Verizon blocked people from using tethering apps. Tethering allows you to broadcast your phone’s data connection as a Wi-Fi hotspot and connect other devices to it, like your laptop. Verizon didn’t want users to be able to tether for free since it charged $20 for this at the time.
  • Also in 2012, AT&T blocked its subscribers from using FaceTime on their iPhones unless they upgraded to a newer, more expensive plan. It had no reason for doing this other than to make more money.

All these instances would be illegal under current net neutrality rules. It’s even arguable that mobile carriers have used data cap exemptions to get around net neutrality through a back door.

Do you see why net neutrality is so important? History is a good predictor of the future.

A Future Without Net Neutrality

It’s not hard to take the above examples and expand on them to see what could happen to an internet without net neutrality. You’ve probably seen this image floating around, mocking up the “package deals” ISPs could offer without net neutrality in place:

how net neutrality repeal is going to change the internet

While this is a bit far-fetched, think on a smaller scale. After all, ISPs love vague wording, and they won’t dive all-in with their newfound power. They’ll test the waters and see how far they can go, bit by bit.

For instance, Comcast owns NBC. It would rather you watch NBC shows on its streaming service than use Hulu or Netflix. Without net neutrality, what’s to stop Comcast from slowing down access to Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and similar and prioritize their own services?

They could hold Netflix hostage for millions of dollars to escape the “slow lane”, resulting in Netflix having to pass that cost onto you. You’re already paying for internet service and a Netflix subscription — now you’ll have to cover for Comcast’s greed too.

Also consider the flow of information. Verizon owns HuffPost and Yahoo, via the subsidiary Oath. What happens if it doesn’t want you to look at other news sites? Would you put up with absurdly slow speeds or outright blocking of news content that Verizon didn’t agree with?

An Open Internet Is Essential

What makes the internet so special is that it’s free and open to anyone. Think about people who earn their living, and companies who have created new methods of interaction, in ways that simply were not possible 20 or even 10 years ago:

  • YouTube creating an alternative to traditional media and giving birth to stars like PewDiePie, Rhett & Link, and Phillip DeFranco. Even Justin Bieber got his start from being seen on YouTube.
  • New ways of listening to and discovering music from Pandora, Spotify, and similar services.
  • Online gaming bringing players from around the world together to play the latest games together.
  • Subreddits on Reddit letting people interested in a common subject build a community.
  • Allowing anyone to start a blog and voice their thoughts, sell their products to buyers worldwide, and a hundred other ways to participate online.
  • The very website you’re reading this article on!

All these people, services, and pages organically gained a following despite tons of competition online. What would happen to all the above if Comcast and friends had been able to filter out websites they didn’t want you to access? What if they didn’t like how your favorite YouTube channels posed a threat to their news, so they blocked them?

You’re an entrepreneur and want to design a better alternative to a product that Verizon has a stake in? Too bad. Verizon will silence your potential threat to its income just like it blocked Google Wallet. How can we expect someone just starting out to build an audience and have success when they don’t have the money to pay ISPs to get in the fast lane?

So when you see ads over the next few weeks from the ISPs with outright lies like this one, remember that actions speak far louder than words.

In fact, Comcast has already quietly dropped its statement about not allowing paid priority on its networks. They’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying to repeal net neutrality, and you’d better believe that they intend to use it.

The FCC’s Vote

On December 14th, the five FCC leaders will vote on whether to repeal net neutrality. The chairman, Ajit Pai, has spearheaded this campaign for repeal. What you might not know is that Pai was once a lawyer for Verizon. As we’ve established above, Verizon is licking its chops at the thought of net neutrality dissolving. He certainly doesn’t have the interest of the public in mind, who vastly support keeping net neutrality.

If net neutrality goes away, the new proposed rules would only require ISPs to “be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them . . .” In other words, they’ll bury all the new ways they’re going to screw you over in the Terms and Conditions that nobody reads anyway.

What Can You Do?

Your best action to keep net neutrality in place is contacting your elected officials. They (in theory) represent you so you need to let them know how you feel. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has created an easy-to-use tool that lets you send a letter to your members of Congress.

If you can call your representatives, governor, and other elected officials, do so. Let them know that you support keeping the internet free and open, and don’t want to place its future in the hands of companies who are ready to abuse it. Visit BattleForTheNet for more info on how to get involved.

Politics Not Required

Before I summarize and close, it’s worth mentioning why this is a political issue.

Some people think that net neutrality is something Democrats support and Republicans do not. Even though Barack Obama was in office when net neutrality was put into place, its roots exist farther back than that. While some might believe that classifying broadband as a Title II service wasn’t the way to go about preserving net neutrality, that’s not the argument here.

The classification does not give the government the right to meddle in the internet (the way that repealing net neutrality will give ISPs the ability to do just that). It allows the government to enforce regulations if ISPs act out of line. Conservatives and liberals alike should happily support about net neutrality. You can visit websites that cater to your views instead of being stuck with what your ISP wants you to see.

The Internet Is at Stake

Regardless, net neutrality is the current law, and right now it’s facing a repeal. Repealing it would only benefit ISPs, not the consumer. Cable companies consistently rank as some of the most hated companies in America, yet people can’t leave if they want internet access. This is because in many areas, one ISP has a monopoly.

You won’t have another choice if Comcast starts forcing you to pay more for sites you want to visit. Everybody hates how cable companies make you pay an exorbitant amount of money for channels you don’t care about, leading to many cutting out cable.

If there’s any question, companies that support net neutrality include Kickstarter, Twitter, Reddit, Mozilla, GitHub, DeviantArt, Discord, DuckDuckGo, Dropbox, Etsy, and OkCupid. Companies against it include Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. What does that tell you?

In summary, we’ve seen what net neutrality protects and why these companies want to repeal it. In the past, they’ve acted to block apps and services from devices that you paid for because they don’t want you to use them. This is crazy. If they’d block Skype to make more money, what’s to stop them from blocking entire websites?

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Outlawing Ransomware?

Legislation has yet to catch up with technology. Perhaps – finally legislators will begin to understand that they have some power to actually protect consumers where new technologies are concerned. There is hope coming out of California where tech law is concerned.

State legislation to outlaw ransomware is drawing broad support from tech leaders and lawmakers, spurred by an uptick in that type of cybercrime and a series of recent attacks on hospitals in Southern California.

The bill, authored by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), would update the state’s penal code, making it a felony to knowingly use ransomware, a type of malware or intrusive software that is injected into a computer or network and allows a hacker to hold data hostage until money is paid.

Ransomware has become a lucrative industry over the last three years, affecting schools, police departments and healthcare businesses. Trojans that work like viruses, such as CryptoLocker — which began appearing in 2013 — can be unleashed by users with few technical skills and reel in profits.

Proponents say the proposed ransomware law is the right step to counter attacks difficult to prosecute under existing statutes that are not tailored to combat computer crime. But some question just who will get caught in the dragnet, as such incidents are tough to trace and culprits are often overseas.

Victims nationwide lost more than $209 million in ransomware payments in the first three months of 2016 alone, compared with $25 million in all of 2015, according to the FBI.

But no arrests were made. Nor were arrests made in more than half a dozen of ransomware incidents investigated by the Cyber Investigation Response Team of the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which is a co-sponsor of the bill.

 

Ransomware Defined

Ransomware attacks are instigated when a person clicks on a compromised website or opens an infected email. The programs encrypt files, such as photographs, videos or documents, and they cannot be accessed without an encryption key.

Security researchers first saw similar attacks in 1989, when the so-called AIDS Trojan virus locked people out of their files if they clicked through a quiz about their sexual and drug habits. Ransomware has evolved over the last decade with the creation of “police screen lockers,” pop-up screens that appear to be created by law enforcement agencies that fraudulently order people to pay fines after accusing them of downloading pirated movies or child pornography.

At the federal level, prosecutors can use the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to target ransomware. But state prosecutors typically must pursue such cases under laws against extortion, or those that target threats to injure a person or property that have not been acted upon.

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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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Net Neutrality Faces More Challanges

net-neutrality-rulingThe FCC’s net neutrality ruling is going to need to endure some challenges in order to survive. To be specific since the FCC ruling has been filed 7 lawsuits have been launched.

The new net neutrality rules, which I believe for the most part is appropriate and necessary was approved by the FCC on February 26, would prohibit broadband and mobile carriers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic. The rule reclassifies broadband as a regulated telecom service, instead of treating it as a lightly regulated information service, as the FCC has done for the past decade.

These lawsuits are to be expected because “old ways” always die a hard death.

CenturyLink, a broadband provider has now joined the list of 6 other ISPs and trade groups suing the U.S. Federal Communications Commission over its net neutrality rules.

The company objected to the FCC’s reclassification of broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a more heavily regulated common-carrier service. CenturyLink spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to “build, maintain and update an open Internet network and does not block or degrade lawful content,” it said in a statement.

The common-carrier regulations, dating back to the 1930s, “not only have no place in the 21st century economy, but will chill innovation and investment,” the company added.

The FCC is confident it will prevail in the lawsuits, Chairman Tom Wheeler said Friday.

CenturyLink, based in Monroe, Louisiana, is the third-largest telecom carrier in the U.S. It acquired Qwest in 2011, and it has about 5 million broadband customers, with its presence the strongest in the U.S. South, Mountain West and parts of the Midwest.

The six other lawsuits come from two ISPs, AT&T and Alamo Broadband and trade groups CTIA, the United States Telecom Association (USTelecom), the National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the American Cable Association. Alamo and USTelecom filed lawsuits in late March, with the trade group refiling its suit on Monday. AT&T and the three other trade groups filed lawsuits on Tuesday.

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Congress Continues to Act on Cyber Threat

law

The federal government is obviously – finally trying to at least address the growing cyber threat we all face. The U.S. Congress is working on several forms of legislation, the latest of which attempts to address the sharing of potential threat information.

The U.S. Congress is moving forward with legislation that would encourage private companies to share cyberthreat information with government agencies, despite concerns that two leading bills weaken consumer privacy protections.

The House of Representatives Intelligence Committee voted Thursday to approve the Protecting Cyber Networks Act (PCNA), just two days after the bill was introduced.

The House bill “is a cybersurveillance bill at least as much as it is a cybersecurity bill, and it is written so broadly that it could wind up making the Internet less safe,” Robyn Greene, policy counsel at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute [OTI], said by email.

The PCNA requires government agencies to “automatically and indiscriminately” share information they receive with military and intelligence agencies, OTI said in a critique of the bill. The bill would allow other agencies to pass cyberthreat information to the FBI and the National Security Agency, where “it could be used in investigations that have absolutely nothing to do with cybersecurity,” Greene said.

While the PCNA limits what personal information businesses can share with government agencies, it does not actually require companies to remove all personal information, OTI added. In addition the bill authorizes companies to monitor all activities and communications of users as a way to identify threats, OTI said.

The House bill would “explicitly undermine every rule that is currently in place to protect Americans’ Internet privacy, and replaces them with dangerously weak protections,” Greene added. “It would massively increase companies’ monitoring of our online communications and activities, and give them a nearly blank check to share that information with the government.”
The bill came after several months of negotiations that included privacy groups, Schiff said through a spokesman. The committee addressed the main concerns raised by privacy groups, he added. The bill requires companies to remove personal information before sharing information with the government and limits the way government can use the data, he said.

The bill also does not authorize offensive countermeasures against attackers, he noted, even though that would be permitted in other information-sharing proposals.

“Protecting privacy was at the forefront during the process of crafting this bill, and I’m pleased by the progress we’ve made,” Schiff said.

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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.

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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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FCC Steps In To Tighten Hacking Laws

FCC_logoOne of the problems surrounding hacks to companies such as Target and Staples is the serious delay in announcing the security breach to their customers. In almost each and every case the public announcement is weeks delayed and sometimes even months. It is this delay in publicly announcing the security breach that makes the problem worse. Because of these delays customer’s data very often remains at risk for longer then it should. This is where the federal government needs to take a role, and it looks like that this may actually happen.

President Obama is also likely to propose rules that prohibit technology companies from profiting from information collected in schools, according to a report yesterday in the New York Times, which quoted White House officials.

The proposed federal law on data hacks, which the president is expected to discuss in a speech to the Federal Trade Commission, is expected to require companies to report within 30 days of finding that their data has been hacked. The new law will more then likely specify when breaches must be disclosed and makes it a crime to sell a person’s online information abroad. The FTC would have the authority to penalize companies which fail to comply with the new law.

 

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Mobile Phone Privacy Gets Protected

The Supreme Court of the United States said last Wednesday that police officers must have a warrant before searching the cell phone contents of an individual under arrest.

Supreme Court The Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision to give cell phones of all kinds special privacy protections. [Image Source: Art Lien]

Supreme Court The Supreme Court was unanimous in its decision to give cell phones of all kinds special privacy protections. [Image Source: Art Lien]

In a unanimous ruling announced Wednesday, June 25, 2014 the high court settled two cases surrounding instances in which law enforcement officials scoured the mobile phones of suspects in custody and then used information contained therein to pursue further charges.

Here is a sample of some important language from the ruling:

“The police generally may not, without a warrant, search digital information on a cell phone seized from an individual who has been arrested,” the Supreme Court ruled.

“Modern cell phones are not just another technological convenience,” the court continued. “The fact that technology now allows an individual to carry such information in his hand does not make the information any less worthy of the protection for which the Founders fought. Our answer to the question of what police must do before searching a cell phone seized incident to an arrest is accordingly simple — get a warrant.”

This is a big win and a long one coming for protecting our digital privacy and moving our laws into the 21st century and working to get them on pace with technology trends.

The high court’s decision last week stems from two cases in which individuals received extended prison sentences due to convictions that may not have been possible had police not accessed their cell phones to gather evidence. In both instances, a warrant was not requested nor issued to search the contents of the arrestee’s phones.

This is yet another example of the laws governing our land being outdated where technology is involved. Cell phones and now smart phones have been around for a couple of decades and just now some of the same protection that has been applied and demanded in other areas (like land line phones) are just not being adopted to address the actual technology we all use today.

You can read the Riley v. California ruling here.

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Regulation Coming to Map Apps?

Apple_Maps_1Can’t we just use gadgets without new laws being imposed on us? I do admit I have been “distracted” while driving from time to time with the GPS on my phone. Just ask my wife. However I am not sure the federal government getting involved is really the best thing. I have also been unfortunately distracted with my satellite radio at one time or another. Should the government regulate that as well?

All of this being understood more regulation on the highway is where we may be heading as this recent report suggests.

The distracted driving debate is about to get very interesting, as The New York Times recently reported. The New York Times is reporting that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is looking to step in and start regulating all in-car navigation devices including those on our smartphones.

A new bill proposal would give the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) the authority to set guidelines for how smartphone apps actually provide in-car navigation services to drivers. The NHTSA is concerned that users can become distracted when using the current generation of apps, and that such apps should be regulated if further study determines them to be an actual “dangerous” distraction.

Not surprisingly, automobile manufacturers are fully behind the government on this proposal, as many already voluntarily adhere to strict guidelines regarding distracted driving (this is why navigation-equipped vehicles pop up a warning screen when you start of the vehicle, or lock you out from entering in a new destination or changing a destination while the vehicle is in motion.

I assume that it is these types of restrictions that the NHTSA would want imposed on the “maps” apps on smartphones. This could be a good idea, but it does make me nervous.

Meanwhile I see motorcyclists every day on the roadways without helmets.  

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