Coverage of how Internet service is deployed, used and regulated.

Telecom Lobbyists Fund MI Lawmaker Who Sponsors Bill To Ban Municipal Broadband

A freshman Michigan state representative introduced a sweeping bill last week that would ban any city and town in the state from using public funds to provide municipal broadband service — publicly owned internet infrastructure. A review of state campaign finance and lobbying records found that the representative’s campaign was heavily financed by telecommunications companies and trade associations. She also dined with trade association lobbyists in the months leading up to introducing the bill.

MI state Rep Michele Hoitenga, who is chair of the Michigan House's Communications and Technology Committee, introduced the bill, HB 5099, on October 12. The bill says that a city or town “shall not use any federal, state, or local funds or loans to pay for the cost of providing qualified internet service,” effectively banning municipal broadband outright. Campaign finance records show that two of her largest campaign contributors are AT&T Michigan and the Telecommunications Association of Michigan (TAM): AT&T gave her campaign $1,500 while TAM provided her with $3,500 — large amounts for a first term state representative. The Michigan Cable Telecommunications Association — a separate entity from TAM — gave Hoitenga’s campaign $1,000.

Misconceptions about KentuckyWired

[Commentary] In the interest of openness and transparency, the Kentucky Communications Network Authority (KCNA) would like to address some statements about KentuckyWired that have appeared in the public forum lately. KCNA would like Kentucky’s citizens to be properly informed.

KentuckyWired will be helping private industry. KentuckyWired is building a “Middle Mile” network — the primary purpose of which is to give broadband service to state agencies. The network will also be the middle mile between the global internet and any company or organization leasing access to the network’s extra capacity. KentuckyWired will be an ultra-high-speed, high-capacity network to which the private internet service providers (ISPs) can connect. Think of it like a major highway with exit ramps into every county. KentuckyWired is not competing with ISPs so much as facilitating them and making it easier for them to reach places where they previously could not, or would not, go.

[Phillip Brown is the director of KCNA]

ISPs Have Throttled, Blocked Content

[Commentary] Here are just a few ways internet service providers (ISPs) have throttled or blocked content in the past:
Packet forgery: In 2007 Comcast was caught interfering with their customers’ use of BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer file sharing
Discriminatory traffic shaping that prioritizes some protocols over others: a Canadian ISP slowed down all encrypted file transfers for five years
Prohibitions on tethering: the Federal Communications Commission fined Verizon for charging consumers for using their phone as a mobile hotspot
Overreaching clauses in ISP terms of service, such as prohibitions on sharing your home Wi-Fi network
Hindering innovation with "fast lane" discrimination that allows wireless customers without data plans to access certain sites but not the whole Internet
Hijacking and interference with DNS, search engines, HTTP transmission, and other basic Internet functionality to inject ads and raise revenue from affiliate marketing schemes, from companies like Paxfire, FairEagle, and others
Individually and collectively, these practices pose a dire threat to this purely democratic engine of innovation that has allowed hackers, startups, and kids in their college dorm rooms to create the free Internet that we know and love today.

[John Ottman is Chairman and co-founder of Minds, Inc. a social media network.]

A Public Focused Approach To Network Neutrality

[Commentary] Handing the network neutrality problem over to a government agency with strong industry ties and poor mechanisms for public accountability poses a real danger of creating more problems than we’d solve. One alternative is to foster a genuinely competitive market for Internet access. If subscribers and customers had adequate information about their options and could vote with their feet, internet service providers (ISPs) would have strong incentives to treat all network traffic fairly. But the ISP market today is under oligopoly control. Nearly one in three American households have no choice when it comes to their Internet, and for all the other consumers choices are quite limited.

Another scenario would be for Congress to step in and pass net neutrality legislation that outlines what the ISPs are not allowed to do. But fighting giant ISP mega-corporations (and their army of lobbyists) in Congress promises to be a tough battle. Yet another option: empower subscribers to not just test their ISP, but challenge it in court if they detect harmful non-neutral practices. That gives all of us the chance to be watchdogs of the public interest, but it too, is likely to face powerful ISP opposition.

[John Ottman is Chairman and co-founder of Minds, Inc. a social media network.]

How lobbyists convinced lawmakers to kill a broadband privacy bill

When a California state legislator proposed new broadband privacy rules that would mirror the federal rules previously killed by Congress, broadband industry lobbyists got to work. The lobbyists were successful in convincing the state legislature to let the bill die without passage in Sept, leaving Internet users without stronger rules protecting the privacy of their Web browsing histories.

The week of Oct 23, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released documents that lobbyists distributed to lawmakers before the vote. The EFF described one as "an anonymous and fact-free document the industry put directly into the hands of state senators to stall the bill" and the other as "a second document that attempted to play off fears emerging from the recent Charlottesville attack by white supremacists." The California bill, introduced by Assembly-member Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), was modeled on now-defunct Federal Communications Commission rules and would have required Internet service providers to obtain customers' permission before they use, share, or sell the customers' Web browsing and application usage histories.

Big Telecom Spent $200,000 to Try to Prevent a Colorado Town From Even Talking About a City-Run Internet

In Fort Collins (CO)—a town of about 150,000 north of Denver—Big Telecom has contributed more than $200,000 to a campaign opposing a ballot measure to simply consider a city-run broadband network. It's the latest example of how far Big Telecom is willing to go to prevent communities from building their own internet and competing with the status quo.

"It's been wild," said Glen Akins, a Fort Collins advocate for municipal broadband. "We're overwhelmed by the amount of money the opposition is spending." When the residents of Fort Collins vote on November 7 they'll have a couple of ballot measures to consider, including one on city-run internet. If that measure is approved, Fort Collins will be able to change the city charter to allow it to run a municipal broadband utility. This doesn't mean it will happen for sure, and the city still hasn't finalized what that utility would look like, but it opens the door to further discussions.

California rural broadband bill signed by Gov Brown

Among hundreds of bills signed into law on Oct 22 by Gov Jerry Brown (D-CA) was the rural broadband measure championed by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D — Winters), Several past efforts to increase funding to close the Digital Divide were intensely opposed by the largest telecommunications and cable companies. After a three-year stalemate, this bill represents a cooperative effort between legislators of both houses and both parties, consumer advocates, and representatives from the telecommunications and cable industries to invest in broadband access and rural development.

The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is a state program aimed at closing the Digital Divide. The CASF does not depend upon General Fund dollars, but instead is funded by a small, existing surcharge on in-state phone bills. The current goal of this program is to incentivize the expansion of broadband infrastructure to 98% of California households. AB 1665 expands this goal to 98% of households in every geographic region of the state. This new goal creates a target that cannot be achieved by serving urban and suburban areas alone; it will ensure broadband infrastructure projects funded by AB 1665 are focused in rural California. The law will take effect beginning January 1, 2018.

Rep Pallone: Google, Facebook, Twitter Content Treatment Not 'Neutral'

House Commerce Committing Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) says top edge player online content management policies are not "neutral," a charge that comes as the network neutrality debate continues to rage on. “With a goal of ad clicks or driving page views, these companies’ policies are not neutral; they actively shape content on the web," said Ranking Member Pallone. That came in a request for a meeting with representatives of those edge giants about how they police content on their sites as social media's role in fake news and Russian election meddling becomes grows as a focus of Hill attention. It also is a response to reports of vague, confusing, and inconsistently applied content guidelines.

Usually, ISPs have been targeted for net neutrality criticisms, but increasingly edge providers are at least at the edges of the conversation on Capitol Hill, and Pallone, along with the committee Democrats of which he is the leader, is clearly trying to include tech companies in conversations about their role in net neutrality and the First Amendment going forward.

A Legislative Solution For Net Neutrality May Be Close

[Commentary] It might seem that the prospects for a return to strong bi-partisan Internet policy, which began during the Clinton Administration, are no better now. There’s been no visible movement, for example, on a simple but effective compromise bill offered by senior Republicans in 2015. According to its sponsors, it remains on the table. But the stakes are about to get higher. The Federal Communications Commission is likely to vote before year-end to undo much of the Commission’s 2015 order reclassifying broadband Internet service providers as public utilities, an order which, almost as an after-thought, included the agency’s third attempt at network neutrality rules that could pass legal muster. Added urgency may help the stars align for serious negotiations in Congress.

For one thing, an inevitable legal challenge to the upcoming order will go nowhere. Though it may take a year or more to work its way through the courts, the FCC’s undo of its earlier order will almost certainly be upheld.

The time for a straightforward, uncontroversial legislative solution is now—not after the pro-utility advocates lose in court in another year or more, and not after another few turns of FCC Chairmen flipping the switch again and again. The net neutrality bill introduced in 2015--before the FCC needlessly reversed twenty years of bi-partisan policy--remains the best starting point we have. Assuming, that is, that Congress really wants to solve this problem once and for all.

[Larry Downes is the Project Director at Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy.]

Homegrown ‘fake news’ is a bigger problem than Russian propaganda. Here’s a way to make falsehoods more costly for politicians.

[Commentary] State-sponsored propaganda like the recently unmasked @TEN_GOP Twitter account is of very real concern for our democracy. But we should not allow the debate over Russian interference to crowd out concerns about homegrown misinformation, which was vastly more prevalent during and after the 2016 election. The problem isn’t that we’re only willing to listen to sources that share our political viewpoint; it’s that we’re too vulnerable as human beings to misinformation of all sorts. Given the limitations of human knowledge and judgment, it is not clear how to best protect people from believing false claims.

Brendan Nyhan is a professor of government at Dartmouth College.

Yusaku Horiuchi is a professor of government at Dartmouth College.