President Obama leapt directly into the net neutrality fight Monday, urging the Federal Communications Commission to claim expansive new powers over the Internet to enact the “strongest possible” regulations.
“‘Net neutrality’ has been built into the fabric of the Internet since its creation – but it is also a principle that we cannot take for granted,” Obama said in a video posted on the White House website. “We cannot allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas.”
Under his plan, the FCC would classify broadband Internet as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, a provision the agency already uses to regulate telephone companies. His statement is a huge win for Internet activists, who have been warning the future of the Internet could be at stake unless the FCC invokes stronger authority to prevent abuses by Internet providers.
But broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon have been lobbying fiercely against applying the provision to the Internet, warning it would strangle their industry with utility-style regulations. Shares of major broadband providers sank early Monday following the announcement. Verizon issued a statement saying it supports an “open Internet,” but warned that Obama’s plan would face “strong legal challenges.”
It’s also a confrontational move against congressional Republicans, who just won control of the Senate last week. They consider Title II an archaic provision designed for a time when a single monopoly controlled all telephone service. They warn that using the provision on the Internet would destory jobs and mean slower Internet for everyone. The new GOP Congress will be sure to try to repeal any net neutrality rules the FCC enacts.
Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican, tweeted Monday that net neutrality is the the “Obamacare of the Internet” and that the “Internet should not operate at the speed of government.” But Democrats, including Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Anna Eshoo, praised Obama’s statement and urged the FCC to enact the stronger rules.
In his statement, Obama noted that the FCC is an independent agency and that the ultimate decision will be up to Chairman Tom Wheeler and the four other commissioners. But his statement puts tremendous pressure on the Democratic appointees to seize the controversial new powers.
Wheeler thanked Obama for his input Monday, but didn’t explicitly say he would follow the president’s directions. The various net neutrality proposals raise “substantive legal questions,” Wheeler said, and he’ll need more time to develop rules that can hold up in court. The FCC chief had previously said he wanted new rules on the books by the end of the year.
Under Obama’s plan, the FCC would ban Internet providers from blocking websites, throttling Internet service, or creating any special Internet “fast lanes” for websites that pay more. The rules would apply equally to a home Internet connection and mobile devices.
He also said the FCC should consider applying regulations to the interconnection points on the backend of the Internet, which would help Netflix and other companies deliver large video files without having to pay Internet providers for better connections. Traditionally, net neutrality has only covered how Internet providers must handle traffic once its on their networks.
Title II would give the FCC a slew of new powers over the Internet, including the ability to control prices and determine which customers a company has to serve. Obama said the FCC should waive the rate regulation requirements and “other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”
Net neutrality advocates argue that Title II is the only way to enact rules that can survive in court. The FCC first enacted net neutrality regulations in 2010, but a federal court struck them down earlier this year.
Wheeler proposed new rules in May that wouldn’t invoke Title II and would allow for Internet “fast lanes” in some cases, but his proposal prompted a massive backlash and more than 3.7 million people filed comments with the FCC.
Although Obama has long supported the concept of net neutrality, Monday is the first time he outlined which specific legal authority the FCC should use.
Despite what you may have heard, net neutrality is not about protecting consumers from rapacious Internet Service Providers (ISPs). It would not make broadband more available in rural America, or lower prices for small businesses. And it has nothing to do with protecting free speech or dissenting voices. Net neutrality is crony capitalism pure and simple – an effort by one group of private interests to enrich itself at the expense of another group by using the power of the state.
For all the arcane talk about “Title II” and “common carriage,” this is not complicated. The rules favored by net neutrality advocates would ban or restrict payments from one type of business – “edge providers” – to another type of business – broadband ISPs – while placing no limits on what ISPs charge consumers. It is easy to see why edge providers like Netflix would lobby for such rules, but difficult to understand how they would benefit consumers or serve the public interest.
Indeed, the arguments advanced by net neutrality advocates don’t withstand even momentary scrutiny. Do broadband providers enjoy too much market power – are they “monopolists”? Not according to the Federal Communication Commission, which waxes eloquent about the strong performance of the broadband marketplace, citing the billions of dollars invested each year and the rapid increase in speeds and performance. And while much is made of consumers’ limited choices, the broadband market is actually less concentrated than the markets for search engines, social networks, and over-the-top video services: discriminatory regulation of ISPs cannot be justified on the basis of market power.
Other arguments for regulation are just as flawed. For example, net neutrality advocates say that without new regulations, ISPs would discriminate against Internet start-ups. But such discriminatory pricing hasn’t occurred so far, and no one can explain why ISPs would want to impede the ongoing explosion of innovative content and applications that makes their services valuable in the first place – especially since such companies pose no competitive threat to the ISPs. Nor can anyone cite an example of an American (as opposed to Chinese or Russian) ISP muzzling a dissenting voice or limiting free speech. In fact, to the extent that any firms in the Internet ecosystem have issues with free speech, it is the content providers like YouTube and Yahoo, who are under constant pressure (which they mostly, and laudably, resist) to take down “offensive” material.
Finally, there’s the argument about fast lanes and slow lanes, or, in regulatory jargon, “paid prioritization.” The simple reality is that edge providers like Netflix require prioritization for their services to work. It’s just the “paid” part they don’t like.
The key to understanding net neutrality lies in the fact that broadband ISPs operate in what economists call a “two-sided market.” One side consists of consumers, who value access to content and applications; the other side consists of content and application providers, who value using the network to reach the customers. Such markets are not unusual: newspapers, for example, serve both advertisers and subscribers. The challenge for such firms is to set prices for each customer group in such a way as to attract the optimal mix: newspapers need enough advertisers to keep subscription prices low, but they don’t want too many ads because it would drive away readers.
The FCC’s primary theory of net neutrality regulation is that the edge providers generate so much innovation and other “external” benefits that they should be subsidized by the other side (that is, by consumers) through a rule that forces consumers to pay 100 percent of the costs of the network while edge providers pay zero. This is a fine theory – but there is not a scintilla of empirical evidence to support it. Indeed, academic research suggests the external benefits generated by ISP’s investments in broadband infrastructure are likely at least as large as the benefits from innovation at the edge.
At the end of the day, the one unarguable fact about net neutrality regulation is that edge providers, big and small, and those who fund them and profit from their success, have a powerful economic interest in getting the FCC to guarantee free access to the ISPs’ networks.
Many net neutrality supporters are no doubt sincere in believing regulation is needed to “protect the open Internet,” and there is nothing illegal or even immoral about wealthy and well-connected private companies seeking to advance their interests through the use of state power. But the results can prove highly damaging. In the case of net neutrality, the danger is that the dynamic, pragmatic, business-and-engineering-driven approach that has made the Internet such a remarkable success will be replaced by an inevitably static, bureaucratic, politicized regulatory regime, not unlike the one that oversees the U.S. Postal Service.
On the global front, a decision by the U.S. to embrace economic and political control of the Internet would legitimize the efforts of tyrants everywhere to impose far more repressive forms of statist intervention.
From a consumer perspective, net neutrality regulation is just one more government-mandated rip-off – another few bucks out of our pockets to subsidize a politically influential interest group. So, the next time you hear an over-the-top video provider arguing for net neutrality, keep this in mind: there’s nothing neutral about it.
When the FCC isn’t protecting us from bad language, it concerns itself with markets created by and for communication networks. It allocates the airwaves used by old-school television, talk radio, mobile phones and Wi-Fi; it oversees mergers and acquisitions among communications companies such as NBC Universal, Comcast, AT&T, and Sprint; and in the current century it has expended considerable resources on micro-managing the technical operations and business models of broadband Internet Service Providers.
While the agency would seem to be plenty busy carrying out its statutory responsibilities with respect to spectrum and mergers, it has chosen to become embroiled in an extra-curricular affair of its own making, the “net neutrality” controversy. This kerfuffle dates back to philosophical meditations on regulation and innovation before the turn of the current century.
It got real in 2007 when self-styled public interest groups filed a complaint with the FCC alleging that Comcast was picking on piracy-oriented BitTorrent networks to protect its TV business. Although Comcast was actually protecting voice competitor Vonage, it stopped using the offending system as soon as it had a higher-quality alternative. The FCC rapped Comcast’s knuckles anyway, which led the company to give the FCC a shellacking in court. This in turn caused the agency to devise a new set of Internet regulations in 2010, only to have them vacated by the court this January.
Somewhere along the way, most net neutrality wonks stopped caring whether it was good policy for innovators or even what the term means: now it’s all about winning. The FCC has decided it can’t passively accept the status quo and has issued 100 pages of questions on various approaches it might take to satisfy the warring clans in the Internet economy’s Game of Thrones, none of which is broadly popular.
At the heart of the conflict lies a misconception about how the Internet works; this naturally leads to a series of counter-productive prescriptions. The very first of the net neutrality papers, “Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination” by then-Virginia law professor Tim Wu, imagined a magical Black Box connecting ISPs with the Internet. Wu realized that the Internet is rife with “discrimination”, content and services offered at various prices with widely divergent levels of quality and utility. He also recognized that neighborhood broadband networks do a number of different things that depend on discrimination: in addition to connecting to the Internet, they supply cable TV and furnish telephone service.
Wu feared ISPs had incentives to degrade competitors, especially video and voice services that went toe-to-toe with core elements of their business model. So he took the unusual step of granting an effective monopoly to the ISPs for voice and video by making the Black Box favor web surfing over other uses. Wu may have sought to design a system that would make ISPs structurally incapable of bad behavior, but he ended up favoring the Web over emerging Internet applications. Banishing the devils has a way of eliminating the angels as well.
Given that it’s committed to making new rules for the Internet, the FCC has a choice between basing its authority on a terse direction in the law allowing it to promote investment in advanced networks (Section 706) or on another portion pertaining to the traditional telephone network, Title II of the Telecom Act. In either case, the agency seems convinced that the Black Box is a winner, at least at the ballot box.
Networks that can’t discriminate are incapable of supporting the wide range of uses that more agile networks can handle. A Black Box network must necessarily be tuned to a single, dominant application instead of being responsive to a diverse pool of uses. Whatever else we know about the future, it’s certain that the Internet will be expected to do more things for more people ten years from now as it was ten years ago.
If we’re going to have a robust and growing market for network applications in the future that improve quality of life and grow the economy, we’re going to need networks that can move information quickly or cheaply, reliably or pervasively, securely or accurately and in several other modes as well.
Consequently, the locus of concern for regulatory policy must shift from preventing the bad to promoting the good. The FCC can do this by drafting rules consistent with the desire to promote meaningful competition, network investment, and service diversity.
Most of the content we get from the Internet comes to us through a kind of fast lane known as a Content Delivery Network that accelerates our access by placing duplicate copies of the content around the web. It’s a law of engineering that short distances can always be crossed more quickly than long ones. It’s also the case that sensitivity to the fundamental elements of network service quality – information loss and delay – depends on the application in use. Backing up a hard drive is less time sensitive, more loss averse, and more data volume-intensive than making a phone call. Network systems such as Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and 4G/LTE wireless recognize this fact with built-in mechanisms to match network service to application needs.
The Black Box rules these adaptations out of bounds, effectively forcing applications to adapt to the whims of policy makers and an arbitrary network. This approach compromises innovation and economic growth, and ultimately erodes quality of life.
The business practices of network industries need the same sort of anti-trust scrutiny that every industry faces, but they do not need precautionary prescriptions that throw the baby out with the bath water. Twenty years of experience with the commercial Internet has proved that fast-lane services like CDNs are beneficial, so we should be looking for ways to grow the Internet economy by creating more services like them.
Network neutrality is simply a bad idea that has run its course.
NET NEUTRAILTY 101: WHY IT’S TERRIBLE
NET NEUTRAILTY RULING: THE INTERNET WORKS, DON’T ‘FIX’ IT
STEFAN MOLYNEUX: THE TRUTH ABOUT NET NEUTRALITY
More than 600 American soldiers told military medical staff that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003, but the Pentagon failed to act on that information, it was revealed Thursday.
According to reporting by The New York Times, Pentagon officials said the department will now expand its outreach to veterans and establish a toll-free hotline for reporting potential exposures and seeking medical evaluation or care.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered an internal review of military records after the Times published an article in October about how US troops encountered degraded chemical weapons from the 1980s that had been hidden or used in makeshift bombs.
Truth comes out: Pentagon acknowledged that more than 600 American soldiers told military medical staff that they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq after the US-led invasion in 2003
US forces came upon hidden caches of warheads, shells and aviation bombs in Iraq between 2004 and 2011. Pictured here are Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians working in Afghanistan in 2002
The initial newspaper report disclosed that 17 service members had been injured by sarin or sulfur mustard agent, and several more came forward after the story appeared, the Times said Thursday.
The Army’s Public Health Command collects standardized medical-history surveys, known as post-deployment health assessments, which troops fill out as they complete combat tours.
Those who responded ‘yes’ to a question about exposure to such warfare agents – ‘Do you think you were exposed to any chemical, biological and radiological warfare agents during this deployment?’ – were asked to provide a brief explanation.
The review ordered by Hagel showed that 629 people answered ‘yes’ to that question and also filled in a block with information indicating chemical agent exposure, Col. Jerome Buller, a spokesman for the Army surgeon general, told the newspaper.
‘Secretary Hagel ordered the department to examine the medical records for all servicemembers assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal Units where exposures were reported to have occurred, as well as the Post-Deployment Health Assessment data for all servicemembers who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
‘The review has determined thus far that 734 troops reported potential exposure. The actual extent of that exposure is not yet clear,’ Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement to Stars and Stripes.
About 5,000 chemical weapons were recovered or destroyed in Iraq following the 2003 invasion.
A Times investigation last month revealed that US forces came upon hidden caches of warheads, shells and aviation bombs between 2004 and 2011.
But the Bush administration reportedly covered up the existence of the 30-year-old weapons, some of them designed by the US, which did not fit into the narrative that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Most of the warheads were mustard agents in 155-millimeter artillery shells or 122-millimeter rockets developed by Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war which raged between 1980 and 1988.
Many of the shells recovered by American troops after the 2003 invasion would leak liquid during transportation, exposing the soldiers to the potentially-lethal fumes.
Hidden: Between 2004 and 2011, soldiers found thousands of rusty chemical munitions throughout Iraq, most of them buried. Pictured on the left are troops handling weapons in Kandahar, Afghanistan
A U.S. Army Third Infantry Division soldier loads materials discovered in an explosives laboratory hidden in a home April 15, 2003 in Baghdad, Iraq
Symptoms ranged from disorientation and nausea to blindness and large blisters.
A Navy explosive-ordnance disposal technician, who was not named because he remains on active duty, told the Times this week that he was burned on his left forearm in 2006 when a mustard agent spilled on him as he was carrying shells outside Samarra.
After he went to an Army doctor seeking treatment, an officer in his battalion ordered him to stop talking about the chemical shells.
Cmdr Ryan Perry, a Navy spokesman, told the newspaper that they do not condone the silencing of service members, adding the the sailor had reached out to the Navy about the 2006 chemical episode in recent days.
Each person who answered the health questionnaire would have received a medical consultation at the end of their combat tour, Buller said.
It was not clear why the military did not take further steps, such as including compiling the data as it accumulated over more than a decade, tracking veterans with related medical complaints, or circulating warnings about risks to soldiers and to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Veterans who believe they were exposed can call a Pentagon hotline at 1-800-497-6261, which previously had been used for Gulf War veterans reporting illnesses.
Unauthorized and potentially counterfeit, dangerous surgical devices and medical supplies have flowed unchecked into the Department of Veterans Affairs supply chain and into VA operating rooms, according to internal agency correspondence from a major supplier who blamed new procurement rules.
The bogus supplies gained a foothold when the department started using reverse auctions to fulfill some contracts, according to both department officials and a 2012 memo from Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest medical device business.
In the memo, the company told the VA it was getting surgical supplies bought from unauthorized distributors through the so-called “gray market,” and said those supplies raised serious questions about patient safety, according to emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
Officials also warned the VA that an ongoing corporate investigation into the gray market showed how some unauthorized sellers were passing off products stolen from other hospitals.
“We do not believe that the VA intended for its efforts to utilize new procurement tools such as reverse auctions to result in these outcomes,” a company official wrote.
The Johnson & Johnson memo included a list of seven gray market surgical supply purchases by agency medical centers in a half-dozen states. But the company made clear there were more examples across the VA.
The warnings were issued months after the VA had a fierce internal debate over using reverse auctions, which have sellers compete to offer goods or services at the lowest price.
A top contracting official, Jan Frye, had put a halt on reverse auctions earlier in 2012, citing a “groundswell” of complaints from VA suppliers. But within weeks, the VA reversed after fierce lobbying from FedBid, the politically connected contractor handling the VA’s reverse auction platforms.
An inspector general’s report earlier this year issued a scathing rebuke to the VA over its dealings with FedBid, and said a VA procurement official, Susan Taylor, had improper contacts with FedBid. The inspector general recommended FedBid be disbarred. Ms. Taylor resigned soon after the report.
Emails obtained by The Times show concerns about reverse auctions persisted.
According to Johnson & Johnson, a South Carolina VA facility received a delivery of “trocar” surgical devices from an unauthorized distributor that was sent to VA without a box and was instead wrapped in yellowed packaging and rubber bands.
“The product being sold may not have been stored properly (high temperature, high humidity, no pest control, etc.), which could create patient risk,” Paul B. Smith, government account director for the company, told the VA, explaining the results of an ongoing company investigation.
An internal VA advisory group also raised an alarm in 2012 in a closed meeting with VA’s senior procurement council, which is composed of the agency’s top acquisition officials. The group recommended that VA stop purchasing “clinically oriented products” through reverse auctions.
Among other issues, the advisory group said FedBid had blocked access to names and contact information for contracting officers. And FedBid officials weren’t qualified to handle clinical purchases, according to the group.
“They do not possess the clinical expertise to position themselves between the buyer and vendor,” the industry group wrote in a report, adding that some VA suppliers refused to participate in reverse auctions.
“As a result of limited participation, FedBid in some cases sourced products from unauthorized distributors,” the report stated. “This has both resulted in significantly increased costs and encouraged the use of ‘gray market’ or counterfeit products.”
In an email statement to The Washington Time, a FedBid spokesman said the company had “established measures to protect against unauthorized sellers and will suspend or remove sellers who attempt to undermine the integrity of the marketplace.”
The company also said that government contracting officers ultimately have a responsibility to ensure they’re buying the right products.
“As with every procurement process, whether it is a reverse auction, single source contract, or open tendering, each buyer has the responsibility to ensure that they are purchasing the right products for their customer,” FedBid spokesman Andres Mancini wrote in an email.
In an email on Friday responding to questions from The Times placed earlier this week, a VA spokeswoman said Johnson & Johnson raised the issue in 2012 with the Veterans Health Administration, which prompted the agency to initiate a validation process among small business suppliers.
Spokeswoman Genevieve Billia noted in an email that VA couldn’t say how often it finds counterfeit material, but noted, “VA has a process in place to identify such items that come in, sot that they do not get to the patient.”
In September, two years after Johnson & Johnson contacted the VA, the agency inspector general’s office issued a report substantiating several of the concerns.
Contractors taking part in reverse auctions needed only to “self certify” that they’re authorized distributors of official surgical products sought by VA, according to auditors. The lack of more stringent requirements put VA at risk of buying from unauthorized distributors, according to the report.
In a written response to the inspector general’s report this year, VA officials agreed with a recommendation to ensure against the purchase of gray market items.
In a letter to the Pentagon released Wednesday, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R., Calif.) said a payment was made to an Afghan intermediary early this year to help secure the May 31 release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held for nearly five years by the Haqqani Network in Pakistan, which is classified as a terrorist organization.
Pentagon officials have denied paying cash to secure the release of Sgt. Bergdahl, who was captured in Afghanistan in 2009. A senior defense official reiterated that denial when asked about Mr. Hunter’s letter.
According to Mr. Hunter, the intermediary took the money but disappeared and failed to secure Sgt. Bergdahl’s release. Mr. Hunter didn’t specify how much money was paid to the Afghan intermediary, and didn’t identify the sources of his information.
The Haqqani Network is worse than the Taliban in some ways. It’s a lot closer to Al Qaeda to the extent of nearly being it. It’s also responsible for killing a lot of people.
Funding it is worse than funding the Taliban. But on top of that, the whole thing also fell through which makes the entire operation look more like clown college than ever with the whole thing culminating in the release of top Taliban leaders.
Obama has been on his high horse about the Europeans paying ransoms to ISIS and other Al Qaeda groups. He has a point. That money helped it become a major threat. But his position is going to be significantly undermined if it turns out that the US was paying ransoms.
Furthermore Qatar’s involvement already looks like plausible deniability payments with the Qataris paying the money while getting benefits from their relationship with the administration. If actual money changed hands to HQ or someone associated with them, that means that Obama has come dangerously close to funding Al Qaeda.
Now that this will be stopped come January (one hopes), expect a flood of Gitmo releases. Fox has also reported that somehow, a spokesman of Al Qaeda’s Khorasan group (that group the Obama regime is saying is ‘so dangerous’) became aware of this release before it happened, since the spokesman tweeted out a congratulations to the family of al-Odah before the release was even announced. This indicates al-Odah’s continuing connections with an active terrorist group.
MIAMI (AP) – One of the longest-held prisoners at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay was sent home to Kuwait on Wednesday, the first release based on the determination of a review panel that has been re-evaluating some men previously classified as too dangerous to release.
Fawzi al-Odah had been told his release was imminent but didn’t know the date until shortly before he boarded the flight back to his country from the base in southeast Cuba, his lawyer, Eric Lewis, said.
The 37-year-old al-Odah had been the focus of an arduous battle to secure his release that had the support of his government. Lewis, who spoke to him about a week before the departure, said the prisoner just wanted to get on with life.
“There’s no bitterness, there’s no anger,” Lewis said. “There’s just excitement and joy that he will be going home.”
Al-Odah faces a minimum of one year at a militant-rehabilitation center on the grounds of a Kuwaiti prison under the transfer agreement. Lewis said that after six months al-Odah will be eligible to leave for part of the day to work or see family.