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FCC Vote Coming February 26; Here's Your Primer On The Issues

Tomorrow, on February 26, the FCC will be voting on a proposal submitted by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler earlier this month. If passed, this proposal will radically change the Internet in extreme ways, and the nation is focused on the FCC now more than ever before. Politicians in both federal and state governments, ISPs and even celebrities have commented on this pending proposal.

The proposal from Wheeler focuses on three main points: Internet as a utility, community broadband, and rules of the Open Internet. Wheeler cites Title II of the Communications Act to support the proposal.

Since the founding of the Internet, only a handful of major ISPs have provided the majority of Internet services. Although this is not a problem in and of itself, these ISPs have faced little competition over the years, and as a result, consumers have experienced less than optimal service and pricing.

Internet As A Utility; Municipal Broadband

In most areas of the United States, only one or two ISPs offer service. For example, I recently attempted to change my ISP from the local cable company, Armstrong, to a competing service from Verizon, AT&T or Frontier. Where I live in southern Ohio, Frontier has very poor service, because the closest network hub is far away and the network is overloaded. Why not subscribe to AT&T or Verizon, then? Because if you call either company to register for service, they'll route you to Frontier.

Despite technically being competitors in the same markets, ISPs have effectively marked up the United States into areas of service controlled by each company, and they refuse to compete with each other. As a result of this non-competitive relationship, ISPs have been able to charge higher prices while providing slower Internet speeds than is common in many nations around the world.

As a result of the poor service offered by ISPs, some cities such as Chattanooga, Tennessee; Wilson, North Carolina; and Cedar Falls, Iowa, have developed their own municipal broadband networks that offer much faster Internet at a lower cost. ISPs lobbying at the state level have gotten laws passed that have since halted the development of these municipal broadband services.

This part of Wheeler's proposal is arguably the most radical, and the most heavily opposed by ISPs. The proposal would turn Internet access into a government-regulated utility. As a result, in areas where traditional ISPs do not offer adequate rates for fast Internet service, states and cities would be obligated to develop broadband networks owned and operated by the government.

This is a clear threat to existing ISPs, as it would remove their ability to operate without significant competition. ISPs such as Comcast and AT&T have frequently posted operating income totaling over $10 billion dollars, so while profits will drop, the major ISPs can easily afford to offer better rates for faster Internet. Those service providers who don't will likely suffer heavy losses as customers jump to different providers.

The Open Internet

The other major part of the proposal being discussed refers to restricting the control and influence ISPs have over users of their services. In recent years, ISPs have abused the amount of control they have on the Internet. To save costs and reduce the load on networks, ISPs have started throttling the Internet speed of users with unlimited Internet plans in an attempt to curb data usage. Often, this is done without notifying end users.

For marketing purposes, ISPs have also been spying on users of their services. By doing so, ISPs are able to better target advertisements and sell information to other companies.

Internet services such as Netflix face difficulties working with ISPs, too. ISPs threatened to drastically limit bandwidth for services like Netflix unless those service providers agreed to pay a fee for fast-lane service.

The proposal will effectively end all of this by removing ISPs' ability to examine what traffic is passing over the Internet. It will become illegal for ISPs to monitor what websites you are visiting and what services you are using. For this reason, ISPs will not be able to sell information about your Internet usage for marketing purposes, and they won't know what services you are using, be it Netflix, YouTube or Tom's Hardware.

Mixed Reaction From ISPs

ISPs have mixed reactions to the proposal. AT&T has been arguing that the FCC should not be able to make such changes to the Internet using Title II of the Communications Act and is preparing arguments to file a lawsuit against the agency.

Sprint has actually spoken in support of the upcoming proposal, seeing the change as positive for customers and the telecommunications industry. T-Mobile, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, stated that while it does not favor the proposal, nothing detailed in the proposal was concerning to it or its future plans.

Verizon has taken a similar stance as AT&T, but at the same time, it has taken steps to improve its services and prepare for the proposal to potentially pass.

The proposal will be the focus of the FCC's Open Meeting, which will be tomorrow (February 26), starting at 9:30 am EST. The FCC commissioners' vote will follow.

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  • TNT27
    Like the ideas, just government control over what I see on the internet is very discomforting to me.
    Reply
  • knowom
    Basically the bigger ISP's with monopolies over large area's that don't wish to innovate and provide a positive service to their customers are against it and the not so big one's don't care so much since they can potentially provide a better quality service for a better price than those bigger names would provide under the new rule changes.
    Reply
  • Scienza
    Way I see it, I'd rather have the government regulating the internet than Comcast or Verizon. At least the feds have to pretend that they aren't trying to rob me blind.
    Reply
  • RedJaron
    Can anyone name one thing that was made cheaper, faster, or more efficient under federal control than private sector?
    Reply
  • Scienza
    I don't see it as any better or worse than a Comcast/Time-Warner monopoly.
    Reply
  • fuzzion
    I hate throttling. Luckily i live in an area with 500mbps optics
    Reply
  • Fierce Guppy
    Michael; with regard to the current situation where only a handful of ISPs exist in the U.S. and don't have to compete, I think you need to replace you advocate's hat with your journo hat and explain why this remains the case. OK, so this handful of ISPs are reluctant to compete with each other, but what is stopping new private businesses from competing in those segments where prices are high and performance is low? It seems like a golden opportunity.
    Reply
  • DarkSable
    Can anyone name one thing that was made cheaper, faster, or more efficient under federal control than private sector?

    Yep. Water. Electricity. Garbage service, in municipalities that aren't overseen by a commercial one. I've lived in cities that have been set up either way, and the ones controlled by the city are MUCH more efficient and usually way cheaper.

    In fact, if you look at any comparisons, having a service provided by the government is nearly always both cheaper and better quality than a company, because they care far less about profit - meaning they don't cheap out on quality and give you a product that's so sub-par it should be a joke.

    Just look at the internet services started by towns that have since been legislated out of action by the ISPs - they were faster for far less money, AND outages were fixed nearly immediately, AND there was actual customer service, rather than what you get when you call one of the big ISPs.
    Reply
  • gio2vanni86
    I want FIOS in my area, because charter literally rules my city. You want faster speeds you gotta move which i believe is lame. There is no competition when it comes to internet service. Its either charter cable or AT&T DSL... Yeah thats real competition there.... DSL. I feel as if DSL is the new 56k. As long as the government only comes in to make it competitive then im all for it. Tired of charter and there bs service but there the only ones in my city that offer fast 60mbps speeds.
    Reply
  • Fierce Guppy
    Can anyone name one thing that was made cheaper, faster, or more efficient under federal control than private sector?

    Yep. Water. Electricity. Garbage service, in municipalities that aren't overseen by a commercial one. I've lived in cities that have been set up either way, and the ones controlled by the city are MUCH more efficient and usually way cheaper.

    In fact, if you look at any comparisons, having a service provided by the government is nearly always both cheaper and better quality than a company, because they care far less about profit - meaning they don't cheap out on quality and give you a product that's so sub-par it should be a joke.

    Just look at the internet services started by towns that have since been legislated out of action by the ISPs - they were faster for far less money, AND outages were fixed nearly immediately, AND there was actual customer service, rather than what you get when you call one of the big ISPs.


    In New Zealand there was only a decrepit government owned copper wire telephone network that came with utterly atrocious service. You had to wait weeks for someone to service your phone. That was in the 70s and early 80s. As you say, governments care little for profits. Government employees have no impetus to satisfy individual customers. The government paid their wages, not tom, dick, and harry. That's how they saw it. The government telco network was privatized in the mid 80's with some caveats. I went from using a 2400 baud modem and being charged $10 per MB for overseas traffic that got to me via the University of Waikato in the 1990's to now having a 100Mbps/10Mbps uncapped account for $80 a month, and I used 141GBs last month. The internet here was built by profit driven businesses. As for customer satisfaction, last week ping times shot up for Aussie Battlefield servers from 48-109ms to 175-210ms. You get kicked from Aussie servers for having those ping times. I got pissed off, wrote posts to a forum visited by customers and a Vodafone rep, phoned tech support, send them a bunch of tracerts and yesterday all the routing issues had been fixed. Yeah, private business are responsive WHEN there's competition. Being profit centered they don't want to lose customers to the competition,

    The government is pouring a lot of taxpayer money into laying down a fibre network anyway, and there's also a lot of private money involved, too. It'll be interesting to see what comes out of that.
    Reply