FCC official says Google, Facebook had little say on net neutrality

The FCC’s landmark decision on net neutrality has produced all sorts of speculation about the degree to which well-known tech giants shaped the outcome.

Gawker, for instance, claimed that Americans can thank a benevolent Facebook-Google cabal for the open internet rules that were passed last Thursday. The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, has suggested instead that Google has been conspiring behind the scenes to weaken the rules. So what’s the real story?

“The fact of the matter is that Google and Facebook sat this one out … I don’t what this person is smoking” said FCC lawyer Gigi Sohn in reference to the Gawker story.

Sohn was speaking Tuesday at a Freedom to Connect event in New York City, where journalist Sam Gustin of Vice asked her about the ruling and what comes next. The 3-2 ruling, which reclassified ISP’s as common carriers, came as a surprise to many given that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was once skeptical to the measure and because of fierce opposition from the telecom industry.

According to Sohn, Wheeler’s ultimate decision did not come about as a result of pressure from corporations or the White House. Instead, she said Wheeler (who is not a lawyer) came to reassess the situation after learning about various legal nuances, and in response to a series of external developments, including a time last spring when his Netflix service started sputtering.

Sohn did, however, credit the White House and members of Capitol Hill for providing “covering fire” as it became clear that Wheeler’s office intended to go forward with reclassification. She added that the FCC’s final decision did not come about as a result of any single factor (including comedian John Oliver), but rather from broad public support.

As for corporate influence, Sohn appeared on Tuesday to chastise the tech industry for not lending more public support to net neutrality, though she did credit Google for providing a small boost late in the process.

“Google to its credit said Title II [the reclassification law] wouldn’t hurt its investment in Fiber… Facebook has said nothing,” Sohn said.

Ultimately, the guessing game over the tech industry’s role in the net neutrality debate may remain just that — a guess. While it seems probable that an 11th hour call by Google persuaded Wheeler to back away from a two-step reclassification for interconnection (the so-called “middle-mile” where ISP’s and websites connect), for now there’s little to support any grander theories.

In the meantime, there will be plenty more for internet policy types to chew on while they wait for the official copy of the final decision to emerge in the next week or two.

Sohn predicted that “people will try to grind the FCC to a standstill” through budget threats and partisan hearings in the coming months. She added, though, that the issue may become less partisan since many groups who ordinarily support Republicans, who are the main antagonists of the new rules, are in favor of net neutrality.

Finally, as Sohn spoke, her boss Chairman Wheeler was wrapping up an appearance at the World Mobile Conference in Barcelona, where he told the audience that phone carriers’ massive recent spectrum purchases belied the idea that the new rules would dissuade companies from investing in the internet.

FCC’s Wheeler makes net neutrality case before global carriers

Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Tuesday that he doesn’t put much credibility in claims that U.S. carriers would stop investing in their networks in his new era of network neutrality. Taking the stage at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona before a global carrier audience, he said that the U.S. telecom industry’s actions speak far louder than its public statements.

He pointed out that [company]Verizon[/company] in 2008 bid heavily and won for its initial 4G spectrum in 2008 even though it came with open internet stipulations similar to those implemented under the FCC’s new neutrality guidelines. Wheeler noted that this year’s 4G auction raised a record $41.3 billion even though the specter of the then-upcoming net neutrality vote had hung over the entire bidding process. [company]AT&T[/company] and [company]Verizon[/company] — two of the rules’ biggest opponents — spent a combined $28.6 billion in that auction.

“I don’t think any of the CFOs bidding in the auction just fell off the turnip truck,” Wheeler said after GSM Association Director General Anne Bouverot asked him whether it was fair to implement net neutrality right after those operators spent billions on new spectrum. Carriers bid on the licenses knowing full well that spectrum would be needed for the future growth of their networks whether net neutrality has passed or not, Wheeler said.

He also added [company]Sprint[/company], [company]T-Mobile[/company] and [company]Google[/company] Fiber had all committed to investing in their networks after the new regulations went into affect. Wheeler repeated many of the arguments he’s made for net neutrality over the last few months, though to a global audience unfamiliar with the fiery policy debate in the U.S., the information was largely new.

One question might have thrown Wheeler for a bit of a loop though. Bouverot said many of the countries represented at MWC might object to the nature of the FCC rules because their governments support developmental programs to bring cheap or free internet services to their unconnected citizens. Though she didn’t mention it by name, I assume she was referring to Internet.org, the founder of which, [company]Facebook[/company]’s Mark Zuckerberg, had spoken on the same stage Monday.

Wheeler responded that U.S. net neutrality rules could take those types of programs could be judged on a case-by-case basis, but he didn’t elaborate, and Bouverot didn’t press him. Under the rules, though, it’s unclear whether Internet.org could operate in the U.S. as it zero-rates, or exempts from all data charges, all mobile internet traffic to Facebook and a handful of other sites. Zero rating falls under the FCC’s general conduct rule which gives it the authority to ban practices that favor one service or app over another, which Internet.org clearly does.

MWC-2015-ticker

Alarms sound over changes to EU roaming, net neutrality and privacy rules

The European Parliament’s liberal-centrist bloc has warned over changes being made by EU countries to incoming telecoms legislation, saying they will severely weaken efforts to introduce unified net neutrality rules and eliminate mobile roaming surcharges for people moving between member states.

The Council of the European Union, which represents member states, is expected to present its position on Wednesday regarding the Telecoms Single Market proposal – this follows the European Commission’s original proposal and changes made by the Parliament, and will trigger negotiations over the final text. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group (ALDE) said Tuesday that the Council’s position is so watered down that it would undermine campaign pledges made by Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and the Parliament that came in last year.

Meanwhile, digital rights groups have released leaked documents relating to the Council’s under-development position on a separate legislative package, the new General Data Protection Regulation. The version that left Parliament would introduce very tough new rules for companies and governments handling EU citizens’ personal data, but it appears member states have been agitating for these rules to be weakened.

Roaming rumble

The member states’ keenness to water down the net neutrality proposals is already well documented, with the countries apparently aiming for aspirational principles rather than tough new rules. However, the roaming aspect of the telecoms package is also contentious.

The Commission’s original proposal would have eliminated intra-EU roaming fees, allowing people to move around EU countries without having to pay more for mobile access than they would pay at home. This is integral to the European single market project – cross-border services won’t get anywhere if you can’t freely use them across borders.

However, the Council appears set to allow carriers to charge roaming surcharges for anything above a measly 5MB of data per day. The surcharges would be capped at the maximum wholesale rates charged between carriers, but they would still stymie the original intention of the legislation.

According to ALDE president Guy Verhofstadt:

This is a scandal. An end to roaming charges and the delivery of a genuine single market for telecoms was a campaign priority for all parties, many of whom are today responsible for blocking this measure…

To say this text lacks ambition is an understatement. Certainly our group will not accept this text, as the only winner from it is national telecoms operators themselves. Member States should hang their heads in shame.

Privacy shambles

As for the new data protection package, which is also intended to unify the disparate rules of the 28 EU member states, the rights groups EDRi, Access, Privacy International and the Panoptykon Foundation have warned that the package is “becoming an empty shell”.

On Tuesday the groups issued an analysis (PDF) of leaked documents about the Council’s position on the regulation. Here are the main points to worry about, according to EDRi et al:

  • Consent: The proposals would allow the failure of browser users to opt out of being tracked to be read as a form of consent for tracking and profiling. They would also weaken the limitations on what that consent can allow. “Germany undermines transparency still further by proposing that consent should cover unknown future uses of the data for ‘scientific’ purposes,” the analysis read.
  • Data subject rights: Gone is the article that would mandate “concise, transparent, clear and easily accessible policies” about data use. Governments would also be allowed to cite “national security, defence, public security and ‘other important objectives of general public interest'” as legitimate reasons for profiling people.
  • Fines and remedies: The new rules were supposed to introduce fines of up to five percent of annual turnover for serious data protection infringements, as a deterrent to the likes of [company]Google[/company], who shrug off today’s fines. The new proposals would lower that amount. The possibility of class action lawsuits would also be nixed, and individuals suing over data protection will only be able to take it to local regulators, not courts.
  • Data breach notifications: Companies would only have to tell people that their data has been stolen if the theft is “high risk”.
  • Cross-border complaints: There’s supposed to be an EU “one stop shop” for data protection complaints, which makes sense as the whole point of this regulation is to create a unified EU framework. But no, the Council would want multiple national data protection regulators to be brought in first to try reach consensus, because member states don’t want to cede control.

The deadline on this one is a bit further out, with the Council expected to produce its position on the data protection regulation in the summer, before commencing negotiations with the other legislative branches of the EU.

According to EDRi: “Unless something is done urgently, the Council will simply complete its agreement, at which stage only an absolute majority of the European Parliament would be the only way of saving Europe’s data protection reform.”

I have asked the Latvian presidency of the Council (it’s a rotating presidency) for comment on the leaks, but haven’t received a reply at the time of writing.

Netflix won’t count against iiNet broadband caps in Australia

So much for net neutrality: Netflix has struck a deal with Australia’s iiNet ISP to exempt its traffic from iiNet’s broadband caps. This means that iiNet subscribers will be able to watch as much Netflix as they want, without the fear that their viewing will lead to any overage charges. But it’s also bad news for any upstart trying to compete with Netflix, and it runs counter to the company’s long and very public defense of net neutrality.

[company]Netflix[/company] said on Monday that it is going to launch on March 24 in Australia and New Zealand. As part of the announcement, iiNet revealed that it will exempt any Netflix traffic from its customers’ monthly bandwidth quotas.

iiNet currently has a 100GB cap for its cheapest broadband plans, and charges customers who exceed that quota $0.60 AUS (about $0.47) per additional gigabyte. The company also has 300GB, 600GB and 1TB plans. Netflix estimates that its customers use up to 7GB of data per hour for the company’s best-looking 1080p HD streams. However, averages are typically much lower.

In the past, Netflix has taken a strong stance against broadband caps. In 2012, its CEO Reed Hastings said that Comcast was violating net neutrality priciples by exempting its own online video services from its broadband caps. “Comcast should apply caps equally, or not at all,” Hastings wrote on his Facebook page back then.

5 reasons the FCC might be wrong about net neutrality

This week the FCC passed new rules on net neutrality, which were essentially designed to limit the ability of internet service providers (ISP) to either slow down or boost the speeds of websites. While many experts praised the ruling, not everyone was thrilled by the outcome.

On this week’s Structure Show podcast, Mark Cuban — the billionaire businessman who made his name in tech and now owns the Dallas Mavericks and is featured on the television show Shark Tank — came on to opine on net neutrality and why he thinks the new rules are bad for the internet and bad for competition. What follows are a couple takeaways on why Cuban believes net neutrality will do more harm than good.

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1. The internet is working fine the way it is

“Look, I’ve had my same position on net neutrality for more than ten years and that is I think what is happening on the net works. I mean, I was involved in the internet right when it started. We started Audionet, which turned into Broadcast.com back in 1995 and for the past 20 years things have worked. And now the net neutrality folks seem to be getting some momentum creating the perception that the big ISPs that got us to this point have now become bad citizens and they are going to ruin the internet unless they’re regulated. And from my perspective, I like the way technology goes and I like the competition and I like the way things are going. I think introducing regulations via the FCC is a huge mistake and I said so.”

2. Government bureaucracy is worse than ISP dominance

“Comcast has always had that power, right? It’s not like [company]AT&T[/company] and [company]Comcast[/company] had just recently become super big companies and they’ve changed their actions. I mean, one of the tenets of net neutrality is that no website, no legal website, should ever be discriminated against. Name me one that has been.”

3. Don’t worry about broadband providers. Worry about Google and Apple

“If you’re going to talk about concerns, what’s the fastest growing access methodology for the internet? It’s mobile, right? And who controls access to mobile? [company]Google[/company] and [company]Apple[/company]. So the far greater risk, and I still don’t think it requires legislation, but the far greater risk is OK…if Apple decides that Comcast’s app is not right, Comcast is not going to be able to reach most of their market to get access through an app to their own broadband, which is crazy when you think about it but it’s a possibility.”

4. Net neutrality laws could end up like patent laws

“For all the years that we’ve been in the tech industry since we’ve been about 8 or 9 years old, the majority of tech companies did not get involved in DC. They did not get involved in regulation. This is all a recent phenomenon. And now, everybody’s got a lobbyist, everybody’s involved, everybody’s got their opinion and I think it backfired on us, just like patent laws backfired on us. Look what happened with patents. That’s what happens when…legislation gets involved with technology. And so I just think that if you’re looking for pain points that the broadband ISPs aren’t it.”

5. Remember Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction? That’s the FCC for you

“What if there’s some decision that just shocks everybody … It’s happened time and time again where FCC regulations get tested, the decision goes against the FCC and they fight it for years. Just like the wardrobe malfunction from the Super Bowl in 2004, they spent money for 8 years. The FCC that you want to be the department of the internet is the company that spent taxpayer money trying to cover, debating, arguing the penalty of showing Janet Jackson’s nipple … Now those people who want to protect decency in the United States and the content that’s delivered over the internet is the purview of the FCC, where else would you go?”

FCC votes yes on net neutrality in partisan spectacle

It took four million public comments and a pitched political fight invoking everything from civil rights to Presidential power, but the FCC has finally passed new rules on net neutrality.

On Thursday, the FCC voted to reclassify broadband internet providers as “common carriers,” as part of a new order that will forbid ISPs from slowing down or speeding up web traffic, or cutting any deals with websites to offer them special service.

The outcome of the vote, which took place along 3-2 partisan lines, was widely expected, but the process served to provide additional details about how exactly the new internet rules will apply.

While the specific text of the regulations will not be posted for a week or two, and the FCC issued only a short summary, officials’ comments suggested that the FCC will carry out one reclassification rather than two.

Earlier reports had suggested that the agency was considering conducting a separate legal process for imposing net neutrality on the so-called “middle mile” of the internet — where ISPs connect with websites (as opposed to ISPs connecting to consumers).

But the FCC appears to have concluded that a single legal step will suffice to ensure that ISPs can’t unreasonably throttle sites like Netflix in order to extract a payment.

The agency also confirmed that the rules would, for the first time, apply to mobile internet services. In addition, it stated that it would it exempt broadband providers from rate regulations and other burdensome obligations that come with common carrier reclassification.

The five commissioners are holding a press conference right after the hearing, and I’ll update with any new details and clarifications (see below).

Bright lines and “general conduct” — how it will work

In a press conference following the vote, Wheeler and FCC staff provided additional details about how the rules will work in practice — though not to the full satisfaction of everyone in the hearing.

The two biggest issues concern interconnection (ie if Verizon can charge Netflix not to impede its stream), and so-called zero rating. The latter term describes situations where an ISP or phone carrier decides certain apps or services, such as music, don’t count against a customer’s monthly data cap.

In both situations, the FCC explained the three new bright line rules — no blocking, no throttling, no fast lanes — do not apply.

Instead, the agency will use a catch-all general conduct provision to stop practices that the FCC deems “unjust” and “unreasonable” under the common carrier law.

FCC staff added that this system does not mean that ISP’s will have to seek permission to charge for interconnection, or to offer free data plans. But all the same, the agency will step in if companies have gone too far, and will investigate complaints.

The upshot is that my colleague Stacey Higginbotham appears to have been correct when she suggested earlier this month that the general conduct rule could serve as a big loophole in an otherwise sound set of rules.

The bottom line is that the new rules (unless they’re upended by a court or Congress) will ensure ISP’s like Verizon and Comcast can’t offer fast lanes, or direct consumers to one website over another. Also, the FCC has now asserted clear authority for the first time over interconnection deals and zero rating — but it is far from clear how it will use that authority.

Civil rights and socialism

In a reflection of how politicized the net neutrality debate has become, some of the commissioners embarked on long soliloquies to equate the vote with larger narratives of their parties.

Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn suggested that the new net neutrality rules served to further broader goals of justice and civil rights.

Meanwhile, her two Republican counterparts characterized the new rules as a “radical departure” that would lead the government to cripple the internet.

Commissioner Ajit Pai, in particular, spoke at unusual length to repeat GOP talking points that the reclassification decision was part of a larger, sinister agenda by President Obama to usurp power from citizens.

Chairman Tom Wheeler dismissed this rhetoric, however, saying, “This plan is no more a plan to regulate the internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech.”

The preamble to the presentation included an address from the CEO of Etsy, and from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, in support of the new rules.

Here’s a guide to how the process unfolded today, and the upcoming court battles.

This story was updated at 2:45pm ET with details of the proposal.

Net Neutrality day is here: a guide to today’s vote

What is the right way to run the internet? After months of pitched debate over so-called net neutrality, the FCC will finally vote on a proposal that will prevent broadband providers from slowing down or speeding up certain websites.

While there’s little doubt about the outcome of the vote, Thursday’s FCC hearing could still bring some surprises. Here’s an overview of how the process will unfold, key issues to watch, and what will happen next.

When is the vote taking place?

The hearing begins at 10:30am ET at the FCC in Washington, where the five Commissioners will vote on two items. The net neutrality proposal is the second item (the first is about municipal broadband – update: which has passed 3-2), and a vote is expected to occur in the early afternoon.

What are they voting on?

The crux of the proposal is new regulations that will replace the net neutrality rules that a court struck down in early 2014. The new rules themselves (contrary to recent rhetoric) are rumored to be 8 pages long and, under FCC convention, are an appendix to a larger document that contains the Commissioners’ positions.

The FCC staff will summarize the key parts of the new rules, but the document itself is not likely to be available to the public for several weeks. This is due to agency protocol, which gives the Commissioners time to add final comments (though the substance of the rules will not change between now and when they appear).

How exactly does the vote take place, and what will be the outcome?

After the staff summaries, each of the five Commissioner will offer their comments in order of seniority. Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai, who has been an outspoken critic, is expected to speak for an hour so this could take some time. They will then take a vote, and hold a press conference.

The outcome will be a 3-2 vote on partisan lines, with the two Democratic Commissioners siding with Chairman Tom Wheeler. (Update: that’s exactly what happened)

What are the key things to watch?

While the outcome of the vote is a sure thing, some key details of the proposal are still unknown. The most high profile of these concerns what the FCC will do about so-called interconnection, and what the rules will do to prevent ISPs from forcing sites like Netflix to pay a toll in return for not having their streams degraded.

There is also the issue of “zero rating,” which is when phone and companies exclude certain apps or services (such as music) from a customer’s monthly data cap. While this violates the general principle of net neutrality, Chairman Wheeler has yet to explain how strictly the new rules will prevent this. (Read my colleague Stacey Higginbottam’s excellent overview of potential loopholes here).

Finally, since much of the recent net neutrality debate has been about theater, it will be worth watching to see how far Commissioner Pai (who has been waging a nasty political and social media campaign against Wheeler) will go to stir the pot during the hearing.

So will the new net neutrality rules go into effect right away?

No. According to Harold Feld of Public Knowledge, the rules only go into effect 30 days after they appear in the Federal Register, which could take a few weeks.

Will there be lawsuits?

Yes, buckets of them. Expect big telecom companies like Verizon or AT&T to sue in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, it’s possible that activist groups on both the right and the left may bring suits of their own.

What will be the effect of the lawsuits?

Feld says, in the event of multiple lawsuits, the first order of business will be for various appeals courts to decide which of them will take the case. After that, the telecom companies are likely to receive a brief stay of the rules until they can file their first round of arguments. At that point, the stay will likely be lifted while the court hears the case.

The court cases are likely to kick off in March or April, and a ruling on whether the new FCC plan is legal will probably come in late 2015 or early 2016. In the meantime, the net neutrality rules will be in effect.

I just can’t get enough of this stuff! Where can I learn more?

Gigaom will have updates on the days proceedings through Thursday. The FCC will have a live stream here (if the internet holds up!).

I’ll be tweeting about it here. Other Twitter accounts to watch are those of Gigi Sohn (FCC lawyer), Commissioner Pai, Public Knowledge’s Feld and Professor Tim Wu (who coined “net neutrality” in the first place).

For political flavor: The New York Times has opined on the FCC’s “wise new rules” here while the Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, hates everything about the FCC (paywall).

This story was corrected at 10:05am to note the court decision was in 2014, not 2013.

Mark Cuban on net neutrality: FCC can’t protect competition

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As someone who takes her cues on net neutrality from Gigaom’s resident expert Stacey Higginbotham or, failing that, John Oliver, this is hard to admit: Mark Cuban may have a point on why the proposed net neutrality regulations may be a cure that’s worse than the disease.

If adopted, he maintained, these regs will open the door to more confusion, more litigation and more overall turmoil, none of which will serve consumers well. Before you throw your device at the wall, just give him a listen. Cuban, the serial entrepreneur who started out as a VAR before founding Broadcast.com which sold to [company]Yahoo[/company] in a $5.7 billion stock deal in 1999. He is now owner of the Dallas Mavericks, co-star of Shark Tank and CEO of of AXS TV  and interestingly a star of new AT&T commercials. The hyphens just keep coming.

Here’s his gist on net neutrality. He doesn’t think the big bad ISPs have behaved all that badly, or all that differently, than they ever have, so why all the hubbub now?

“It’s not like [company]AT&T[/company] and [company]Comcast[/company] have recently become super big companies and changed their actions… One of the tenets of net neutrality is that no legal website should be discriminated against. Well, name me one that has been.” He also pretty much dismisses [company]Netflix[/company] claims that it in fact faced such discrimination.

He sees competition ramping up in both in wired and wireless access — if these markets are so foreclosed why is Google doing broadband? Why is “AT&T going out of its traditional TV markets where they have U-verse to compete with Comcast and Google? That’s one layer. On the other layer you have mobile, with [company]Cablevision[/company] going into Manhattan where [company]Verizon[/company] and AT&T have broadband wireless and putting together an unwired wifi network for $30 a month’

His point is that there is competition, although it may not be the competition we would all like to see.

Cuban is clearly worried about one, well two mega players and neither one is a big ISP. “I would rather see national competition for [company]Google[/company] than no competition for Google. If you put a lid on Time Warner and Comcast and Google just keeps adding more and more markets, who’s going to compete with them?”

Google and [company]Apple[/company] constitute a huge countervailing force for all the ISPs because of their mobile might. “The fastest growing access for Internet is mobile. Who controls access to mobile? Google and Apple. The far greater risk is if Apple decides that the Comcast app is not right, Comcast won’t be able to reach most of its market to give access to its own broadband. Kind of crazy but it’s a possibility.” For the record, he isn’t recommending regulation to stop that either.

His point isn’t that Comcast or Time Warmer or insert-your-least-favorite cable provider here) are so great — he admits they are not — it’s just that the FCC its regulations are ill equipped to deal with fast-changing technologies. The public would be better served to let the cable companies duke it out with each other and, perhaps more to the point, with far scarier competitors including Google and Apple.

He starts about 10 minutes in. But here is the kill shot: Do you really want the same organization (the FCC) that took 8 years to deal with Janet Jackson’s Wardrobe Malfunction at Super Bowl XXXVIII to be the gating factor in the internet? Ummmm, maybe not.

Listen to the whole thing to find out how you, too, can get in touch with Cuban, such a shy and reserved guy, to ask your own questions on net neutrality; whether the NBA is seeing diminishing returns on data analytics; and why the heck the Celtics let the Mavs steal Rajon Rondo. Whatever.

Businessman and TV personality Mark Cuban speaks onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

Businessman and TV personality Mark Cuban speaks onstage at TechCrunch Disrupt at Pier 48 on September 8, 2014 in San Francisco, California.

In our intro section, Jonathan Vanian and I discuss all (or a bunch anyway) of this week’s Kubernetes news — where Mirantis was latest into the pool, working with Google to bring the cluster management framework to OpenStack clouds, joining HP and a raft of other tech vendors endorsing the open-source framework. Interestingly, Spotify blazed its own trail,  Helios as opposed to Kubernetes for its own workloads.

Oh and we wonder what is up, exactly, with HP’s cloud now that Marten Mickos has stepped back from his leadership job — after just six months.

SHOW NOTES

Hosts: Barb Darrow, Derrick Harris and Jonathan Vanian

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Microsoft’s machine learning guru on why data matters sooooo much 

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Don’t like your cloud vendor? Wait a second.

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Want Fiber? Do more to get it, Google exec tells cities

Google has a tip for those who want more high-speed internet options: tell your town to get rid of its fax machine, touch up its maps and streamline the permitting process.

“If you make it easy, we will come. If you make it hard, enjoy your Time Warner Cable,” Milo Medin, VP of Access Services at Google Fiber told a Washington D.C. audience on Tuesday.

Medin cited byzantine permission processes (including a fetish for faxes) and an inability to provide accurate information about infrastructure as prime reasons that hurt some cities’ chances to attract new broadband services.

Currently, Google Fiber is available in Austin, Kansas City and Provo, Utah, while the company is in the process of building out its gigabit-to-the home service in the southern cities Charlotte, Atlanta, and Nashville, and in towns in the Raleigh-Durham area.

It’s unclear though if bumbling bureaucracies are all that’s holding back Google, which has talked a big game about its Fiber networks, but has been slow to roll them out.

Medin, who was speaking on a panel about network deployment, added that some markets in the U.S. are simply uneconomic for internet providers to enter, and that local telephone companies are reluctant to grant access to key telephone pole infrastructure.

He also noted that some owners of multi-unit buildings, where economics of scale are easily available, won’t allow entities like Google Fiber access in the first place.

The upshot for the foreseeable future is a patchwork of different broadband speeds across the country as competitors flock to easy-access markets, while leaving many millions of others (including me in Brooklyn) stuck with monopoly service.

According to Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer, who also spoke on the panel, this situation will require a future wave of policy inducements to produce more broadband offerings.

Google still cagey on FCC net neutrality rules

The panel’s moderator, Ryan Knutson of the Wall Street Journal, tried to pin down Medin on Google’s position on imminent Title II rules, which will reclassify broadband providers as common carriers. But Medin, who ceded his role leading Google Fiber last year, wouldn’t bite.

Medin instead offered platitudes about the virtues of the open internet, without addressing a curious contradiction at the heart of Google’s policy position: the company has been using its trade associations, including Comptel and the Internet Association, to put a big thumb on the scale in favor of Title II rules, yet still won’t support them directly.

Some speculate that Google’s Fiber ambitions are playing a role in this hedge, though others close to the company have dismissed this theory. In late December, Google did tell the FCC in an official filing that, in the event the agency does impose Title II, it should do so in a way that would require incumbents to give access to their utility poles.

Another member of the panel, Michael Weidman, appeared lukewarm about the Title II proposal and warned of agency overreach.

“I can see a two page summary turning into 300 pages of regulation,” said Weidman, CEO of LS Networks, which provides broadband services to towns in the Pacific Northwest.

The panel was part of an event titled the Comptel Competition and Innovation Summit. It was one more piece of a furious burst of political jockeying ahead of the two key FCC votes, set for Thursday, about the Title II rules and on a plan to give cities more freedom to build broadband.

This story was clarified at 4:10pm on Wednesday to note Google Fiber is coming to towns in the Raleigh Durham area, not “Raleigh Durham”

Porn exec touts net neutrality in rare call for regulation

Smut sellers normally prefer that the government stay far away from their business. But when it comes to how the FCC oversees the internet, the adult industry says proposed net neutrality rules are needed to ensure internet providers don’t start assigning moral value to web traffic.

“One gigabyte of data is one gigabyte of data, whether it’s House of Cards or Shemales.xxx,” Stuart Lawley, a web tycoon who operates domains like .porn and .sex, told me on the phone. “What the consumers is paying for is the big pipe, and the speed of the pipe and quality of data that comes down that pipe.”

Lawley fears porn sites are low-hanging fruit for ISPs that want to charge websites a toll in exchange for not throttling their data streams, and that large purveyors like Mindgeek (which runs sites like RedTube and Pornhub) would be an easy target.

The porn industry has few friends in Congress but Lawley said that, in the case of net neutrality, larger principles are at stake.

He pointed out that ISPs could use domain suffixes as a source of discrimination when delivering web traffic — and not just pornographic ones like .sex. Without net neutrality rules, he said an ISP could degrade the traffic of sites that suggest a religious affiliation: “You could have ISPs run by certain people who have certain racial or religious views who might slow Jewish websites.”

As such, Lawley said he is in favor of the proposed rules that the FCC will vote on this week, which will bar ISPs from giving special treatment to some sites.

The FCC also plans to invoke new legal authority to oversee so-called interconnection fees, or tolls of the sort Lawley fears ISPs will extract from his industry.

These fees became an issue when Verizon and Comcast imposed them on Netflix, leading the video company to blast them as a form of extortion.

Adult-related websites, which account for five on an Alexa list of the top 100 most-visited sites in 2014, have yet to complain publicly about similar practices. But the site Pornhub participated in an “internet slowdown day” last year in which numerous mainstream sites, including Reddit and Etsy, brought the issue of net neutrality to the public’s attention.