Lauren Frayer

FCC Reopens Net Neutrality Debate, Seeking “Substantive” Public Comment

On May 18, 2017, the Republican commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission voted to reopen the debate over how to best preserve an Open Internet. Launching a proceeding seeking “substantive” public comment, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed undoing the only legal basis for network neutrality rules that has survived court challenge. The unreleased Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes to reverse the FCC’s 2015 ruling that the transmission component of broadband Internet access service (BIAS) is a telecommunications service. The NPRM also proposes to 1) return to the FCC’s original classification of mobile broadband Internet access service as a private mobile service; and 2) eliminate the Internet conduct standard created by the 2015 Order. Finally, the NPRM questions the need for the FCC’s so-called “bright-line rules” which prohibit broadband providers from a) blocking access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; b) impairing or degrading lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; and c) favoring some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no "fast lanes." FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the rewrite would undo the current rules’ overreach, and help spur investment in broadband, which he claims has suffered because broadband providers told him so. "The Internet was not broken in 2015," Chairman Pai said, repeating his often-chosen turn of phrase. "The utility-style regulations known as Title II were and are like the proverbial sledgehammer being wielded against the flea. Except that here, there was no flea." Chairman Pai and his Republican colleague, Commissioner Mike O'Rielly, said the new review of net neutrality will include a cost-benefit analysis, which they say wasn't done in 2015.

Reporter says security 'manhandled' him after he asked FCC questions

Security guards reportedly “manhandled” an award-winning reporter after he asked Federal Communications Commission officials questions at a public hearing, according to a National Press Club statement.

John Donnelly, a journalist at CQ Roll Call, was removed from the scheduled press conference by security after he attempted to ask FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly questions before they arrived at the podium. Donnelly said two guards, using the backs of their bodies, pinned him to the wall while commissioners passed. They then escorted him out of the event. “I could not have been less threatening or more polite,” Donnelly said. “There is no justification for using force in such a situation.”

The security at the monthly open meeting was unusually high as the FCC voted on the high profile issue of net neutrality. “[W]e apologized to Mr. Donnelly more than once and let him know that the FCC was on heightened alert today based on several threats,” a spokesman for the FCC said.

Presentation of Charles Benton Digital Equity Award to Emy Tseng

I am so honored today to present the second annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. Charles’ life was a testament to the principle that real change is the result of sustained effort. He saw in communications a tool that can and should be employed to make communities better, to help people thrive, and to improve our democracy. He was a consistent champion for digital inclusion and the idea that every member of a community should have affordable access, and the required skills, to make use of the latest communications technologies. From MIT to the Ford Foundation; from Zero Divide to the City and County of San Francisco; from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband USA to the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, Emy Tseng’s work embodies a “sustained commitment to digital inclusion programs, practices, and policy work.” Practitioner, policy leader, researcher, funder, program partner: these are the varied roles Emy has played. Her impact stretches from the San Francisco Bay area, throughout the United States, and to many countries abroad. Near and dear to my heart is Emy’s service to the nation through the Broadband Opportunities Technology Program.

Benton Joins Racial Justice, Civil Liberties and Digital Rights Groups to Urge FCC Not to Harm Lifeline Program

May 18 the Federal Communications Commission voted 2–-1 to initiate a notice of proposed rulemaking pertaining to its Network Neutrality rules. We are concerned about the possible impact of this rulemaking on the Lifeline program’s support for broadband service. We care deeply about the Lifeline broadband program because it mitigates the affordability barrier to broadband services in our homes — which is particularly acute for low-income people and people of color — and because broadband access removes barriers to educational, emergency, and civil services and job opportunities. We strongly support the FCC's recent Lifeline modernization order, which added stand-alone broadband internet service to Lifeline. We urge the Commission to ensure that nothing in this rulemaking will harm, impair, or weaken the ability of the Lifeline program to help low-income families to afford broadband service so that they can take part in the modern economy. We also urge the Commission to avoid any shift in Lifeline resources or policy that distracts from the program's core goal of defraying the cost of communications services.

FCC Launches Review of Media Regulations

The Federal Communications Commission issued a Public Notice that begins a review of its rules applicable to media entities, including broadcasters, cable operators, and satellite television providers. The FCC’s action invites public comment on which media rules should be modified or eliminated as unnecessary or burdensome.

Through this review, the FCC seeks to reduce regulations that can stand in the way of competition, innovation, and investment in the media marketplace. The Commission also seeks input regarding specific rules from which small businesses should receive regulatory relief. Today’s media entities are subject to a multitude of regulations, many of which are decades old.

Inside Russia’s Social Media War on America

On March 2, a disturbing report hit the desks of US counterintelligence officials in Washington. For months, American spy hunters had scrambled to uncover details of Russia's influence operation against the 2016 presidential election. In offices in both DC and suburban Virginia, they had created massive wall charts to track the different players in Russia's multipronged scheme. But the report in early March was something new. It described how Russia had already moved on from the rudimentary e-mail hacks against politicians it had used in 2016. Now the Russians were running a more sophisticated hack on Twitter.

The report said the Russians had sent expertly tailored messages carrying malware to more than 10,000 Twitter users in the Defense Department. Depending on the interests of the targets, the messages offered links to stories on recent sporting events or the Oscars, which had taken place the previous weekend. When clicked, the links took users to a Russian-controlled server that downloaded a program allowing Moscow's hackers to take control of the victim's phone or computer--and Twitter account.

Judicial Watch Sues FCC Over Title II Documents

Conservative group Judicial Watch has filed suit against the Federal Communications Commission to get documents it says the commission has not produced in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. On the same day the FCC was voting to launch the rollback of Title II classification, the group said the commission had failed to turn over records related to the 2015 Internet Order that imposed Title II and the White House's influence on the decision. The suit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Columbia after the group says the FCC failed to respond to two FOIA requests. Both those requests were made under new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has also accused the White House of pressuring the FCC to move to Title II, including referring to the Open Internet order as Obama's rules.

Sen Thune: Time for Net Neutrality Regulation

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) took to the Senate floor to say it was time to put the fear-mongering aside and protect the open internet with bipartisan legislation, the kind of legislation Chairman Thune said he had offered but then-chairman Tom Wheeler rejected. That came just before the Federal Communications Commission was to vote on the proposal to roll back Title II classification.

Chairman Thune said there are many upset about how FCC chairman Ajit Pai is proceeding—with the Title II rollback—just as he was when the FCC reclassified under Title II when he previously suggested legislation was the better route. Chairman Thune said the vote to start the Title II rollback did not create certainty for the internet and that there was more work to do. He said there was an opportunity for Congress to provide clear rules of the road for the internet after talking with all stakeholders.

Ajit Pai’s dream of killing net neutrality may soon turn into a nightmare

It’s entirely possible Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal will die before being implemented. The first obstacle could arrive as soon as July. Should Democratic-leaning FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn leave the FCC at the end of June as expected, it would leave the body one commissioner short of a quorum, meaning the FCC wouldn’t be able to vote on Chairman Pai’s proposal. (Adding commissioners would likely mean picking yet another fight with congressional Democrats.)

The 1946 Administrative Procedure Act bars “capricious” rulemaking at federal agencies, and experts anticipate credible legal challenges against Chairman Pai’s proposal for not rising above that standard, especially because of how the FCC has bungled public comment.

FCC Halts Rural Phone Rate Hike

The Federal Communications Commission stopped a federally mandated rate increase for certain rural phone customers, pending review of an FCC policy known as the “rate floor.” The FCC froze the current minimum rate for local voice services at $18 per month for customers of companies that receive support from the FCC’s universal service program. That minimum rate, or rate floor, was scheduled to rise to $20 on July 1, and to $22 on July 1, 2018. The freeze will stay in effect until the FCC reviews its rate floor policy, or no more than two years. The review was launched by the Commission May 18 in a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking seeking comment on the policy.