Gigi Sohn

Promises Mean Little for Consumers in T-Mobile/Sprint Deal

[Commentary] The proposition here is simple: This T-Mobile/Sprint deal will shrink the market for nationwide mobile wireless service from four players to three, giving consumers fewer choices and increasing the likelihood that prices will be higher and service offerings will be less consumer-friendly. Decreased competition in a market that is already consolidated? This deal should be an easy one for the government to reject. Companies seeking to merge typically promise the sun, moon, and the stars to regulators in order to obtain approval, and T-Mobile and Sprint are no different.

Online innovation at risk following FCC's repeal of net neutrality rules

[Commentary] The vote by the Federal Communications Commission repealing its 2015 network neutrality rules will have an especially negative impact on online innovation.

The proposal to do away with net neutrality is worse than you think

[Commentary] In doing away with the 2015 rules that prohibit broadband providers from discriminating against or favoring certain content, applications and services (that is, no blocking, no throttling, no fast lanes and a general rule against discrimination), Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has radically departed from bipartisan FCC precedent. This opens the door for companies like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and Charter to pick winners and losers on the Internet by controlling which online companies get faster and better quality of service and at what price.

Net Neutrality 101: What you need to know to survive the next 6+ months of debate

On May 18, the Trump Federal Communications Commission will vote to adopt a final “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (NPRM) that will officially begin the effort to repeal the 2015 network neutrality rules and the legal authority upon which they are based — Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Title II says that broadband Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and AT&T are essential “telecommunications services,” and as such, can be prohibited from discriminating against or favoring certain Internet traffic. Anticipating a huge outcry, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai opened a “docket” for the public to submit comments, and it has — over one million comments have already been submitted. The final NPRM will start the official period for comments and reply comments on the proposal to repeal the rules (comments are currently due on July 17; replies on August 16). After the reply comment period is over, the FCC will draft its decision. Depending on the length and complexity of an issue, it usually takes anywhere from 2 to 6 months to draft a final decision. But Pai has made it clear that he already knows what the decision will say. He and his supporters are in a rush — the longer this proceeding goes, the more likely it will become a major issue in the 2018 election (based on the fundraising emails I’m getting, I’d say it already has).

The FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality will also kill internet privacy

[Commentary] After Congress repealed the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband privacy rules two weeks ago, new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai promised the American people that he would ensure that the personal information they give to their Internet service providers would continue to be protected. Chairman Pai said that he planned to work with the Federal Trade Commission to “restore the FTC’s authority to police internet service providers’ privacy practices.” But this plan will not only fail to provide effective broadband privacy protections, it will come at the cost of eliminating the FCC’s net neutrality rules that prohibit ISPs like Comcast and AT&T from picking winners and losers on the internet. And there’s a real chance the FTC actually won’t be able to regulate ISPs at all.

[Gigi Sohn served as Counselor to former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler from November 2013 to December 2016.]

You have just hours to stop Congress from giving away your web browsing history

[Commentary] On a party-line vote, the Senate voted to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 broadband privacy rules giving consumers the power to choose how their Internet service providers use and share their personal data. Now the House of Representatives will vote, and if the House also votes to repeal the rules, the bill will go to President Trump, who is expected to sign it.

The consequences of repeal are simple: ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Charter will be free to sell your personal information to the highest bidder without your permission — and no one will be able to protect you. The Federal Trade Commission has no legal authority to oversee ISP practices, and the bill under consideration ensures that the FCC cannot adopt “substantially similar” rules. So unless the bill fails in the House, the nation’s strongest privacy protections will not only be eliminated, they cannot be revived by the FCC. Color of Change, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Free Press have simple ways for you to tell your Representative what you think of the FCC’s rules and Congress’ efforts to eliminate them.

[Sohn served as counselor to former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler from November 2013 to December 2016]

FCC, FTC are playing a shell game with online privacy

[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission and Congress are taking steps to weaken and eliminate the FCC’s privacy rules for broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and AT&T. The proponents of these efforts make two arguments - neither of which will leave consumers with the privacy protections they now have and deserve.

The first is that there should be one set of privacy rules for ISPs and so-called “edge” companies like Google and Facebook, and that these privacy practices should be overseen solely by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which currently has no legal authority over ISPs. I agree that one set of rules for the Internet ecosystem might be desirable, but why shouldn’t they meet the higher FCC standard that affords consumers more protection? And while the FTC is an important partner to the FCC on a variety of consumer protection and competition matters, including privacy, it lacks the ability to adopt rules - a critically important tool when it comes to protecting consumers.

The second argument is that even without the broadband privacy rules, the FCC can still protect consumer privacy under Section 222 of the Communications Act, which requires telecommunications carriers to protect the privacy of their customers’ information. But there is a more fundamental problem. If, as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai believes, that the FTC, and not the FCC, should have the legal authority to regulate the privacy practices of ISPs, why would his agency enforce Section 222 at all? Indeed, his colleague Commissioner Mike O’Rielly made clear in his dissent to the October privacy decision that he does not believe the FCC has that authority today.

Nobody should fall for this privacy shell game. The FCC’s broadband privacy rules are currently the best protection consumers have for their personal information online.

[Gigi Sohn is an Open Society Foundations Leadership in Government Fellow.]

Real net neutrality is rooted in Title II

[Commentary] Unfortunately, current Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has announced his intention to take a "weed whacker" to network neutrality rules and to the legal authority on which they are based. He said, "I favor net neutrality, but I oppose Title II." This should fool no one — there's no net neutrality without clear FCC authority to protect consumers and competition in the broadband market. Right now, that authority is vested in Title II. Net neutrality is under assault. But repeal of the rules is by no means a done deal. Like the Affordable Care Act, Americans won't sit by and allow rules that have protected their ability to use the most important communications network in history to be taken from them. Whether the fight is at the FCC, Congress, or both, policymakers should brace for an enormous battle over the future of the internet.

[Gigi Sohn is an Open Society Foundations Leadership in Government Fellow and served as counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.]

First Lifeline, Now Broadband Program for Schools and Libraries in the FCC’s Crosshairs

First the new Federal Communications Commission majority revoked the approval of nine companies to become Lifeline providers, a move that will weaken the Lifeline program and widen the digital divide. Now it appears that the E-Rate program, which makes broadband services more affordable for America’s schools and libraries, is in the FCC majority’s crosshairs. And much like in the case of Lifeline, the majority is using procedural steps and administrative tools to weaken the E-Rate program.

Defending the Indefensible: Chairman Pai’s Lifeline Reversal Will Widen the Digital Divide

[Commentary] To my great surprise and delight, the recent move by the Federal Communications Commission's new majority to revoke the designations of nine companies as Lifeline providers has provoked a firestorm in the press, on social media, and on the Hill. The furor has been so intense that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai felt moved to defend the decision on Medium this week. But the Chairman doth protest too much. His thin arguments fail to mask two clear truths:
1) His actions will make the market for Lifeline broadband services less competitive, limiting choice and keeping prices high. As a result, fewer low income Americans will be able to afford broadband; and
2) He, and fellow FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, fundamentally disagree with the structure and goals of the Lifeline program and will seek to undermine it in word and deed.
[Gigi Sohn is an internationally-known communications attorney and former Counselor to the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Currently, she is an Open Society Foundations Leadership in Government Fellow. In the coming months, Ms Sohn will be writing articles for The Digital Beat examining the importance of open, democratic, accessible, and affordable communications networks.]