Public Knowledge submitted comments to the Federal Communications Commission on May 16, in response to the FCC's Notice of Inquiry regarding digital discrimination rules in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. "Digital discrimination is not just unjust towards individuals, but can hold back entire communities and prevent the nation from living up to its potential," states Public Knowledge in its filing. "Thankfully, the Commission now has not merely the legal authority, but an affirmative obligation, to end digital discrimination.
The paper stems from a platform competition research project led by Public Knowledge and supported by Omidyar Network. The paper explores the challenge of balancing the significant gatekeeper control that dominant platforms like Apple and Google have over both their operating systems and app stores, with the benefits that app stores create for both developers and users.
The court in Mozilla required the Federal Communications Commission to address how its Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which repealed the agency’s net neutrality rules and removed FCC jurisdiction over broadband, impacted public safety, pole attachments, and the Lifeline program. Instead of opening a new rulemaking proceeding, the FCC issued a Public Notice that fails to explain how the agency ultimately intends to proceed on this matter.
The broad language of Section 230 should not be interpreted in a way that gives platforms that host third-party content a special exemption from laws that apply to businesses generally, or creates an exemption from the kinds of health, safety, public interest, and economic regulation that governments at every level—from federal agencies to municipalities–engage in. To be clear at the outset, this does not mean that any and all regulations a government may want to enforce are good ideas. Some of them might be. Others might be terrible.
The gatekeeper and competition issues caused by app stores aren’t going away. At the same time, solutions to them should seek to maintain the convenience, security, and privacy benefits of software that is at least somewhat screened, since we’ve learned from experience that allowing any app, from anywhere, to have unfettered access to a user’s computer or other device is not good, either. No one wants smartphones to become like the virus and “toolbar”-infested Windows 98 family computers of the past.
On Feb 1, Petitioners (including Public Knowledge) finally got to make their case in court that the Federal Communications Commission’s reckless abdication of responsibility over broadband was illegal. To highlight some of them:
The financial challenges YouTube TV and other “virtual cable” providers face is a good illustration of some points we’ve been making at Public Knowledge for a while. "These streaming services have yet to figure out how to make money. In fact, the more people they sign up, the more money they lose. That’s because the services are paying more for programming than what they’re charging consumers.” Why is this? Basically, the incentives of large content providers and big cable make offering viewers more choice very difficult.
Even Under Kind Masters: A Proposal to Require that Dominant Platforms Accord Their Users Due Process
This paper recommends that dominant online platforms be required to provide their users with “due process,” that is, procedural protections that ensure fairness, when the platforms wish to take an action that may be detrimental to the user. It argues that the principles of due process are a way to ensure that individuals are treated fairly by large institutions -- whether they are public or private. It recommends a robust set of procedural protections adopted from leading legal scholars and proposes a way of determining "dominance" that is informed by the history of communications law.
The state of New York is suing Charter over alleged deceptive statements regarding internet speed. Public Knowledge submitted an amicus brief explaining the importance of broadband to consumers, and how consumers rely on accurate information from their broadband providers to make informed decisions.
Despite the change in administration, the Federal Communications Commission has a law to abide by and an obligation to implement. Section 629 of the Communications Act is the law of the land, and it directs the FCC to ensure that consumers can choose from a competitive market for 'unaffiliated' devices that can access their complete cable TV or other pay-TV subscriptions. Ending the set-top box monopoly would bring the benefits of competition, including lower prices and better devices, to cable subscribers. Consumers currently spend about $20 billion a year for overpriced boxes they aren’t allowed to dump. They should be able to access online and cable programming in one integrated interface, boosting programming diversity and allowing access to alternative viewpoints. Despite the FCC’s recent efforts on this issue, the law has not been enforced and consumers continue to be burdened by a multi-billion dollar set-top box ripoff. Chairman Pai should continue the FCC’s work to bring consumers relief in this matter.