The Internet plays an essential role in our modern society and yet the way the Internet will be governed is still unclear. In anticipation of an impending Federal Communications Commission vote to reverse the so called “net neutrality” regulation implemented during the Obama administration, we look at the law which the FCC is trying to enforce. We also examine our current lawmaker’s plans for Internet governance by listening to highlights of three hearings featuring testimony from lawyers from Facebook, Twitter, and Google.
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H.R. 3989: Amend Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978
S. 652 (104th): Telecommunications Acto of 1996
- Article: House foreign surveillance turf war heats up as law sunset nears by Daniel R. Stoller, Bloomberg, December 1, 2017.
- Article: Colorado warns families to be prepared in case congress doesn’t come through on CHIP funding by Kimberly Leonard, Washington Examiner, November 27, 2017
- Article: Congress confronts jam-packed December with shutdown deadline looming by Mike Debonis and Ed O’Keefe, The Washington Post, November 26, 2017
- Article: States prepare to shut down children’s health programs if congress doesn’t act by Colby Itkowitz and Sandhya Somashekhar, The Washington Post, November 23, 2017.
- Article: Here’s how the end of net neutrality will change the internet by Klint Finley, Wired, November 22, 2017.
- Article: What is net neutrality? by Aaron Byrd and Natalia V. Osipova, NY Times, November 21, 2017.
- Article: Will the Telecommunications Act get a much-needed update as it turns 21? by Richard Adler, Recode, February 8, 2017.
- Article: Cable tv price increases have beaten inflation every single year for 20 years by Nathan McAlone, Business Insider, October 31, 2016
- Article: 20 years after the Telecommunications Act of 1996, rekindling Congress’s political will by Stuart N. Brotman, The Hill, February 8, 2016.
- Article: The city that was saved by the internet by Jason Koebler, Motherboard, October 27, 2016.
- Article: This was 1995: A pop culture snapshot by Patricia Garcia, Vogue, September 1, 2015.
- Article: Why your internet prices are bound to go up by Brian Fung, Washington Post, July 23, 2015.
- Report: In a nutshell: Net neutrality, CBS News, March 1, 2015.
- Report: AT&T buys DirectTV for $48.5 billion by Roger Yu, USA Today, May 18,2014.
- Article: Federal appeals court strikes down net neutrality rules by Brian Fung, Washington Post, January 14, 2014.
- Article: Legal gymnastics ensue in oral arguments for Verizon vs. FCC by Jennifer Yeh, Freepress, September 10, 2013.
- Report: Comcast completes NBC Universal merger, Reuters, January 29, 2011.
- Bill Resources: H.R.1555 Communications Act of 1995
- Bill Roll Call: H.R. 3989 Vote Roll Call
- FCC Resources: Telecommunications Act of 1996
- Mission Statement: AIPAC – America’s Pro-Israel Lobby
- Network Map: Community Networks
- Publication: Public Law 104 Telecommunications Act of 1996
- Publication: The USA Liberty Act
- Report: Akamai’s State of the Internet 2017
- Report: FCC Fact Sheet
- Support Page: AT&T HBO Channels
Sound Clip Sources
Senate Select Intelligence Committee: Facebook, Google and Twitter Executives on Russian Election Interference; November 1, 2017 (Senate Social Media)
- Colin Stretch – Facebook Vice President & General Counsel
- Sean Edgett – Twitter Acting General Counsel
- 1:49:24 Sen. Roy Blunt (MO): Mr. Stretch, how much money did the Russians spend on ads that we now look back as either disruptive or politically intended? It was at $100,000. Is that— Colin Stretch: It was approximately $100,000. Blunt: I meant from your company. Stretch: Yes, approximately $100,000. Blunt: How much of that did they pay before the election? Stretch: The— Blunt: I’ve seen the— Stretch: Yeah. Blunt: —number 44,000. Blunt: Is that right? Stretch: So— Blunt: 56 after, 44 before. Stretch: The ad impressions ran 46% before the election, the remainder after the election. Blunt: 46%. Well, if I had a consultant that was trying to impact an election and spent only 46% of the money before Election Day, I’d be pretty upset about that, I think. So, they spent $46,000. How much did the Clinton and Trump campaigns spend on Facebook? I assume before the election. Stretch: Yeah. Before the elec— Blunt: They were better organized than the other group. Stretch: Approximate—combined approximately $81 million. Blunt: 81 million, and before the election. Stretch: Yes. Blunt: So, 81 million. I’m not a great mathematician, but 46,000, 81 million, would that be, like, five one-thousandths of one percent? It’s something like that. Stretch: It’s a small number by comparison, sir.
- 2:19:55 Sen. Tom Cotton (AR): Do you see an equivalency between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Russian Intelligence Services? Sean Edgett: We’re not offering our service for surveillance to any government. Cotton: So you will apply the same policy to our Intelligence Community that you apply to an adversary’s intelligence services. Edgett: As a global company, we have to apply our policies consistently. Cotton: This reminds me of the old line from the Cold War, of one who did not see a distinction between the CIA and the KGB on the other hand, because the KGB officer pushed an old lady in front of an oncoming bus, and the CIA officer pushed the old lady out from the path of the oncoming bus, because they both go around pushing old ladies. I hope that Twitter will reconsider its policies when it’s dealing with friendly intelligence services in countries like the United States and the U.K. as opposed to adversarial countries like Russia and China.
House Select Intelligence Committee: Facebook, Google and Twitter Executives on Russian Election Interference; November 1, 2017 (House Social Media)
- Kent Walker – Google Senior Vice President & General Counsel
- Colin Stretch – Facebook Vice President & General Counsel
- Sean Edgett – Twitter Acting General Counsel
- 39:05 Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ): Social-media platforms have the responsibility of striking a balance between removing false information and preserving freedom of speech. Can you give us some brief detail of how each of your companies plan to target perceived false news while protecting the robust political discourse? Kent Walker: Let me take that because that was the sort of next stage to my answer to Mr. Shift’s question. We are taking a number of different steps beyond advertising to focus on fake news. We are working to improve our algorithms, to provide additional guidance and training to the Raiders who provide quality feedback for us, and to look at a wider variety of signals to improve the ranking of authentic and genuine news on our sites and to demote sites that we feel are deceptive or misleading. We are also making broader use of fact-check labels, working with third parties, for both Google Search and Google News. And when it comes to advertising, we’ve taken steps to disallow advertising on sites that misrepresent their nature or purpose, and to add to our policies around or against hate speech, incitement of violence, and the like. Colin Stretch: I would group our efforts with respect to false news into three buckets. First, we find that most false news is financially motivated, and we’re making efforts to disrupt the financial incentives. That, we think, will make a big dent in it. Second, we’re looking to stop the spread of it. So when we have information that’s been disputed by independent fact-checkers, we limit the distribution and we alert users who are attempting to share it that it has been disputed. And third, we’re engaged in a number of user-education efforts to help, particularly around the world, users approach some of the content they see with a more discerning eye. Sean Edgett: We’re tackling this challenge in a few ways, and I think the way this was characterized is correct: it’s a balance between free speech and what’s real and what’s false. And we often see there’s a lot of activity on the platform to correct false narratives, and one of those things, for example, is the text-to-vote tweets that we turned over to you, which we took off our platform as illegal voter suppression. The number of tweets that were counteracting that as false and telling people not to believe that was, like, between eight and 10 times what we saw on the actual tweets. But we’re working on the behavior. That’s where we’re focused right now. We’ve had great strides in focusing on that for things like terrorism and child sexual exploitation. We’re trying to figure out how we can use those learnings to stop the amplification of false news or misinformation, and think we’re making great strides there, but it’s a definite balance. We also have work we’ve done, just like my peers, around ads transparency that, I think, is going to help educate the consumer about who’s paying for an ad, what else they’re running, what they’re targeting, what they’re after—especially around electioneering ads, who’s paying for it, how much they’re spending. We are also working with third parties. We have a Trust and Safety council of experts, academics, around the world who are helping us think through the things that we’re trying to employ to tackle these issues and how they will impact the debate and free speech on our platform. So we’re working hard on this, but it’s a challenge.
- 59:39 Rep. Terri Sewell (D-AL): I submit to you that your efforts have to be more than just about finding malicious and deceptive activity, that you have a responsibility—all of you have a responsibility—to make sure that we are not adding to the problem by not being as rigorous and as aggressive as we can in terms of vetting the content and in terms of making sure that we are being really dynamic in doing that. And I also want to just say that I think it’s ridiculous that a foreign entity can buy a political ad with rubles but can’t give a political contribution to me—a Russian person can’t give me a political contribution. There seems to be some legislation that needs to be had here, is all I’m saying.
- 1:16:05 Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL): Let’s look at unpaid content for a second. Sometimes these fake accounts are pulled down, but the fake story takes the false claims of widespread voter fraud, for example, generated by these accounts have spread thousands of thousands of times, often picked up by legitimate news accounts. What do you do to flag that? What do you sense is your responsibility? And before any of you answer, let me just notice this, that if we’re asking is, are we still in this situation? As of just a short time ago—and I’m talking about when this meeting started—on Twitter, if you clicked on the hashtag “NYCTerroristAttack,” which is “trending,” marked with a red button saying “live,” the top tweet links to an Infowars story with the headline, “Imam: I Warned De Blasio About New York City Terror; He was Too Busy Bashing Trump.” This is a real-time example of when we talk about this information being weaponized. How quickly can you act, and what’s your responsibility to set the record straight so that the people who saw this know that it’s fake news and at least at some point in time it can’t keep spreading like some sort of virus through legitimate world? Sean Edgett: That’s something we’re thinking about all the time because it’s a bad user experience, and we don’t want to be known as a platform for that. In your example, in for instance, the system self-corrected. That’s not—that shouldn’t be the first tweet you see anymore. It should be a USA article, the last time I checked. Quigley: But you saw this. Edgett: USA Today. At lunch I did, yeah, and I also saw the system correct it. Quigley: Can you give me a really good guess on how long it was top? Edgett: We can follow up with you and your staff on that, and I don’t have the stat in front of me. Quigley: Yeah. Edgett: So I don’t know. But we are, like we said earlier, trying to balance free speech with making the information you see on the system—especially around trends that we direct you to, so if you’re clicking on a hashtag, we want to make sure you’re seeing verified accounts and accurate information and reporting. Sometimes it doesn’t work as we intended. We learn from those mistakes and tweak and modulate going forward. Quigley: Beyond the correction, do you have a responsibility to flag something as “this was fake news”? Edgett: We see our users do that a lot. We’re an open, public platform with respect to journalists and other organizations who point these things out. You may have seen that on this instance, for example. Quigley: Yeah, if someone’s breaking the law, you’ve got to feel like you have a responsibility to do something about that. It’s not—as you said, this is a—with this extraordinary gift, this platform of free expression, comes the responsibility you all talked about. So, if you know something’s illegal, you know you have the responsibility to do something. At what point does this become something where you can’t just correct it; you’ve got to say to the public, this isn’t true. Edgett: Right. And we take swift action on illegal content, illegal activity, on the platform. A good example of this is the text to vote, voter suppression tweets that we’ve turned over to this committee. We saw swift action of the Twitter community on disputing those claims; and Twitter actively tweeted, once it discovered these things were on the platform, to notify our users that this was fake information, that you could not, in fact, vote by tweet, and pointing people to a tool that would allow them to find their nearest polling place. That tweet— Quigley: Is this [unclear] because that was illegal activity, or is this—if something’s just fake, do you think you have an equal responsibility? Edgett: We took that down because it was illegal voter suppression. We are actively working on, how do we balance what is real and fake, and what do we do in the aftermath of something being tweeted and re-tweeted, like you said, and had people even seen it and how do we make sure that they’re seeing other view points and other facts and other news stories. Quigley: Do you have a policy right now where if you know something’s out there that’s not true, of saying so? Edgett: We do not. We have a policy that fosters the debate on the platform. We have a policy that takes down a lot of that content because it comes from automated malicious accounts or spammers. That stuff we’re removing and acting on as quickly as we can. Quigley: And I understand how you’re trying to distinguish that, but the fact is if something’s fake, it doesn’t matter if it’s from a fake account or some bot or something. If it’s just not true and it’s wildly obvious, before it goes viral and gets picked up legitimate, you must feel like you have some responsibility. Edgett: We are—we are deeply concerned about that and figuring out ways we can do it with the right balance.
- 1:57:39 Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA): RT, Russia Today, on your platform, has 2.2 million subscribers. Fox News, on your platform, has 740,000 subscribers. CNN has 2.3 million subscribers. The Intelligence Community assessment that was made public in January spoke about RT, and it said, “RT conducts strategic messaging for Russian government. It seeks to influence politics and fuel discontent in the United States.” So my question to you is, why have you not shut down RT on YouTube? Kent Walker: Thank you, Congresswoman. We’ve heard the concerns, and we spoke briefly about this previously. We recognize that there’re many concerned about RT’s slanted perspective. At the same time, this is an issue that goes beyond the Internet to cable, satellite television and beyond. We have carefully reviewed RT’s compliance with our policies. We’ve not found violations of our policies against hate speech and incitement to violence and the like. Speier: It’s a propaganda machine, Mr. Walker. The Intelligence Community—all 17 agencies—says it’s an arm of one of our adversaries. Walker: And we agree that— Speier: I would like for you to take that back to your executives and rethink continuing to have it on your platform. Walker: Yes. We agree that transparency’s important for all of these different sources of information. We are working on additional ways to provide that for all government-funded sources of information, including Al Jazeera and a range of government organizations.
- 2:05:27 Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC): Is it constitutionally protected to utter an intentionally false statement? Colin Stretch: So, it depends on the context, but there is recent Supreme Court precedent on that. On Facebook— Gowdy: On which side: that it is or is not? Stretch: That it is, in most cases, protected. However, on Facebook, our job is not to decide whether content is true or false. We do recognize that false news is a real challenge. The way in which we’re addressing it is by trying to disrupt the financial incentives of those who are profiting from it, which is where most of it comes from. Most of this, most of the fake-news problem is coming from low-quality websites that are trying to drive traffic on every side of every issue, and by disrupting the financial incentives, we’re able to limit the distribution. We’re also trying to make sure that users do know when a story has been disputed by a neutral third party and alerting users to that fact— I’ll stop. I’ll stop there. Gowdy: Well, I’m smiling only because on the last break a couple of my colleagues and I were wondering who those neutral fact-checkers are, and I really do appreciate your desire to want to have a neutral fact-checker. If you could let me know who those folks are, I’d be really grateful, because people in my line of work might take exception with the neutrality of some of the fact-checkers. So, if I understand you correctly, the authenticity of the speaker is very important; the accuracy of the content, less so. Stretch: That’s how we approach it. That’s exactly right. Gowdy: All right. For the life of me, I do not understand how a republic is served by demonstrably, provably, intentionally false information. And I get it, that you don’t want to be the arbiter of opinion—I don’t want you to be, either—but today’s not Thursday, so if I say it is, I swear I don’t understand how my fellow citizens benefit from me telling them something that is demonstrably false, and I am saying it with the intent to deceive. I just—for the life of me, I don’t get it, but I’m out of time.
Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism: Facebook, Google and Twitter Executives on Russian Disinformation; October 31, 2017 (Social Media)
- Colin Stretch – Facebook Vice President and General Counsel
- Sean Edgett – Twitter Acting General Counsel
- Richard Salgado – Google Law Enforcement & Information Security Director
- Clint Watts – Foreign Policy Research Institute, National Security Program Senior Fellow
- Michael Smith -New America, International Security Fellow
- 38:25 Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI): And I gather that all of your companies have moved beyond any notion that your job is only to provide a platform and whatever goes across it is not your affair. Colin Stretch: Senator, our commitment to addressing this problem is unwavering. We take this very seriously and are committed to investing as necessary to prevent this from happening again. Absolutely. Whitehouse: Mr. Edgett? Sean Edgett: Absolutely agree with Mr. Stretch, and this type of activity just creates not only a bad user experience but distrust for the platform, so we are committed to working every single day to get better at solving this problem. Whitehouse: Mr. Salgado? Richard Salgado: That’s the same for Google. We take this very seriously. We’ve made changes, and we will continue to get better. Whitehouse: And ultimately, you are American companies, and threats to American election security and threats to American peace and order are things that concern you greatly, correct? Stretch: That is certainly correct. Edgett: Agree. Salgado: That’s right.
- 52:15 Sen. Dianne Feinstein (CA): Mr. Salgado, why did Google get preferred status to Russia Today, a Russian propaganda arm, on YouTube? Richard Salgado: There was a period of time where Russia Today qualified really because of algorithms to participate in an advertising program that opened up some inventory for them, subjective standards around popularity and some other criteria to be able to participate in that program. Platforms or publishers like RT drop in and out of the program as things change, and that is the case with RT. They dropped out of the program. Feinstein: Well, why didn’t you revert RT’s preferred status after the ICA came out in January 2017? It took you to September of 2017 to do it. Salgado: The removal of RT from the program was actually a result of, as I understand it, is a result of some of the drop in viewership, not as a result of any action otherwise. So, there was nothing about RT or its content that meant that it stayed in or stayed out.
- 2:03:15 Sen. Mazie Hirono (HI): So, Mr. Stretch, you said that there are 150 people at Facebook just focused on the content of what’s on your platform. How many people do you have, Mr. Edgett, at Twitter to concentrate on the content and ferretting out the kind of content that would be deemed unacceptable, divisive? I realize there are a lot of First Amendment— Sean Edgett: Right. Hirono: —complicated issues, but how many people do you have? Edgett: Well, we harness the power of both technology, algorithms, machine learning to help us, and also a large team of people, that we call our Trust and Safety team and our User Services team, it’s hundreds of people. We’re at a different scale than Facebook and Google, obviously, but we’re dedicating a lot of resource to make sure that we’re looking at user reports about activity on the platform that they think is violent or activity on the platform they think is illegal, and prioritizing that accordingly. Hirono: So, you have fewer people than Facebook. Facebook has 150; you said you have hundreds. Edgett: Yeah, we have hundreds— Hirono: Hundreds. Edgett: —across User Services and Trust and Safety, looking at the issues of content on the platform. Hirono: What about you, Mr. Salgado? Richard Salgado: Google has thousands of people. There’s many different products, and different teams work on them, but internally we’ll have thousands of people working on them. We also get a good deal of leads on content that we need to review for whether it’s appropriate or not that come from outside the company as well. Hirono: You have thousands of people just focused on the content— Salgado: On various types of content. Hirono: —as Mr. Stretch indicated to us that he has at Facebook? You have thousands of people dedicated? Salgado: We have thousands of people dedicated to make sure the content across our—and remember, Google has many different properties within it—but, yes, the answer is we have thousands that look at content that has been reported to us as inappropriate. Hirono: So, in view of that, Mr. Stretch, do you think 150 people is enough people? Stretch: Senator, to be clear, the 150 people I mentioned earlier is people whose full-time job is focused on addressing terrorism content on Facebook. In terms of addressing content on the site generally, we have thousands. And indeed, we have a Community Operations team that we announced earlier this year that we were going to be adding additional thousands to the several thousands that are already working on this problem every day. Hirono: I think it’s pretty clear that this is a whole new sort of use, or misuse, of your platform, and you may have various ways to address terrorist content, but this is a whole other thing.
- 2:32:10 Clint Watts: Account anonymity in public provides some benefits to society, but social-media companies must work to immediately confirm real humans operate accounts. The negative effects of social bots far outweigh any benefits that come from the anonymous replication of accounts that broadcast high volumes of misinformation. Reasonable limits on the number of posts any account can make during an hour, day, or week should be developed and human-verification systems should be employed by all social-media companies to reduce automated broadcasting.
- 2:33:07 Clint Watts: Lastly, I admire those social-media companies that have begun working to fact-check news articles in the wake of last year’s elections. These efforts should continue but will be completely inadequate. Stopping false information—the artillery barrage landing on social-media users comes only when those outlets distributing bogus stories are silenced. Silence the guns, and the barrage will end. I propose the equivalent of nutrition labels for information outlets, a rating icon for news-producing outlets displayed next to their news links and social-media feeds and search engines. The icon provides users an assessment of the news outlet’s ratio of fact versus fiction and opinion versus reporting. The rating system would be opt-in. It would not infringe on freedom of speech or freedom of the press. Should not be part of the U.S. government, should sit separate from the social-media companies but be utilized by them. Users wanting to consume information from outlets with a poor rating wouldn’t be prohibited. If they are misled about the truth, they have only themselves to blame.
- 2:44:20 Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI): Mr. Watts, you’ve been a U.S. Army infantry officer, you’ve been an FBI special agent on the Joint Terrorism Task Force, you’ve been executive officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, and you’ve been a consultant to the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division and National Security Branch, so you clearly take American national security very seriously. It is, and has been, your life’s work. So, when you say, ”The Kremlin disinformation playbook,” which we’re talking about here, “will also be adopted by authoritarians, dark political campaigns, and unregulated global corporations who will use this type of social-media manipulation to influence weaker countries; harm less-educated, vulnerable populations; and mire business challengers,” you’re not just talking about the Russian election-manipulation operation getting worse and having to be contained. You’re talking about it as if it’s a technology that other bad actors can adopt and have it metastasized entirely into new fields of dissimulation, propaganda, and so forth. Clint Watts: Yes. Whitehouse: Correct? Watts: Everybody will duplicate this if they don’t believe in the rule of law, if they want to destroy democracies from the inside out. Anyone with enough resources and time and effort, if they put it against us, they can duplicate this. I could duplicate it if I chose to. Whitehouse: So, if we don’t stop it now, it’s going to get exponentially worse. Watts: Yes. And I think the one thing that we should recognize is even in the U.S. political context, if we don’t put some sort of regulation around it, if bodies like this don’t decide how we want American politics to work, everybody will be incentivized to use this same system against their political opponents, and if you don’t, you will lose.
- 2:51:35 Sen. John Kennedy (LA): The First Amendment implications of all of this concern me as well. I mean, what’s fake news? What do you think fake news is? Clint Watts: Fake news, over the years since I’ve been involved and talking about this, is any news the other side doesn’t like, doesn’t matter what side it is. Kennedy: That’s right. Michael Smith: Senator, if I may. I’m teaching undergrads a course at Georgia State University this semester titled Media, Culture, and Society; and we’re about to start classes focused on fake news later this week. I would submit that fake news might best be defined as deliberate mis- or disinformation, which is tailored or engineered to achieve a particular outcome in the way of behaviors, to persuade perceptions in a manner that lead to behaviors such as perhaps a vote for or against somebody. Kennedy: Well, that’s a good definition, but I’ll end on this: in whose opinion? Watts: But I think there are parameters that we could come around. I mean, reporting versus opinion is a key point of it. I think also in terms of fact versus fiction, I’ve actually set up rating systems on foreign media outlets before the U.S. Government’s paid me to do that, you know, in the Iraq/Afghanistan campaigns.
House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee: FCC Oversight; October 25, 2017
- Ajit Pai: FCC Chairman
- 14:00 Rep. Greg Walden: Ultimately, Congress is the appropriate forum to settle the net neutrality debate. I think you hear a little of that passion here on both sides. And I’ve been continuing my efforts to negotiate a compromise. Although my staff continues to engage in the various affected parties in productive discussions toward that end, my colleagues in the minority have, unfortunately, seemed largely uninterested at this point. Love to see that change, by the way. Door remains open. We’re willing and able to codify net neutrality protections and establish a federal framework in statute for providing certainty to all participants in the Internet ecosystem. I don’t think we need Title II to do that.
- 1:31:45 Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH): Voice-activated virtual assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant are becoming an increasingly popular consumer gateway to the Internet. Some day soon they might even become consumer-preferred interface with the Internet, leaving the age of the desktop Google Search behind. You get Yelp results in Siri, OpenTable in Google, TuneIn radio from Alexa. These interactions are occurring through private partnerships among these companies to have their apps interact. However, it creates a situation where, by definition, the consumers’ access to other Internet content is limited or completely blocked. It’s the question of, who answers Siri’s question when you ask Siri something? Chairman Pai, can the FCC do anything about this? Ajit Pai: Congressman, under our current Internet regulations, we cannot. Those do not apply to edge providers.
- 1:36:12 Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA): Will you commit to us that you’ll apply or consider applying broadcast-transparency requirements to state-sponsored media outlets like RT? And if not, why not? Ajit Pai: Congresswoman, thank you for the question. As I under— Eshoo: Uh-huh, you’re welcome. Pai: As I understand the law— Eshoo: Uh-huh, mm-hmm. Pai: —there is no jurisdictional hook at this point, no transfer of a license, for example, that allows the FCC to a certain jurisdiction. Eshoo: But what about those that have a license and carry them? Do you have—doesn’t the FCC have any say so in that, or is this, as the Intelligence Community said, that they are a principle international propaganda outlet? So are they just going to operate in the United States no matter what? Pai: Congresswoman, again, under the Communications Act and the Constitution, the First Amendment, we do not have currently a jurisdictional hook for taking and doing an investigation of that kind. If you’re privy to, obviously, classified or unclassified information that suggests that there might be another agency that has, obviously, a direct interest in the issue—and we’re, obviously, happy to work with them—but at the current time, as I’ve been advised, neither under the First Amendment nor under the Communications Act do we have the ability to— Eshoo: Well, First Amendment applies to free speech in our country. It doesn’t mean that the Kremlin can distribute propaganda in our country through our airwaves. I just—I don’t know if you’re looking hard enough.
- 1:40:05 Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY): In 2013, and I was one of the households affected by this, there was a carriage dispute between CBS and Time Warner Cable. And CBS blocked Time Warner Cable Internet customers from viewing its shows online through a CBS.com website. So I couldn’t get any of CBS or SHOWTIME or any of that on TV. If you went to the website, because Time Warner Cable was our cable provider and Internet service provider, you couldn’t go to CBS.com—it was blocked. Or SHOWTIME to watch any of the shows that was coming out. And that was when some new ones were coming out that August, so we were trying to find that. But some members of Congress said, bring this up, and I think Chairwoman Clyburn was acting chairwoman at the time and said that she didn’t believe the agency had the jurisdiction to intervene in this situation. And Chairman Pai, do you think if it happened now, do you think the FCC would have the opportunity to intervene in a similar case? Ajit Pai: Congressman, I think the legal authorities have not changed to the extent that the FCC gets a complaint that a party is acting in bad faith in the context of retransmission dispute, then we would be able to adjudicate it. But absence to such a complaint or additional authority from Congress, we couldn’t take further action. Guthrie: But currently the Title II, open Internet, is still in effect. Is that—how would that affect it? Pai: Oh, currently, yes. Just to be clear, I should have added was well then, our Internet regulations would not apply to that kind of content to the extent you’re talking about, the blocking of online distribution of [unclear]. Guthrie: Because it only applies to the service provider, not to the content provider? Pai: That is correct, sir.
Federal Communications Commission: Open Internet Rules; February 26, 2015 (Open Internet Rules)
- Agit Pai: FCC Commissioner
- 38:05 Ajit Pai: For 20 years, there has been a bipartisan consensus in favor of a free and open Internet. A Democratic president and Republican Congress enshrined in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 the principle that the Internet should be a vibrant and competitive free market “unfettered by federal and state regulation.” And dating back to the Clinton administration, every FCC chairman—Republican and Democrat—has let the Internet grow free from utility-style regulation. The results speak for themselves. But today the FCC abandons those policies. It reclassifies broadband Internet access service as a Title II telecommunications service. It seizes unilateral authority to regulate Internet conduct to direct where Internet service providers, or ISPs, make their investments and to determine what service plans will be available to the American public. This is not only a radical departure from the bipartisan market-oriented policies that have serviced so well over the past two decades, it is also an about-face from the proposals the FCC itself made just last May. So why is the FCC turning its back on Internet freedom? Is it because we now have evidence that the Internet is broken? No. We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason only: President Obama told us to do so. Barack Obama: I’m asking the FCC to reclassify Internet service under Title II of a law known as the Telecommunications Act. Pai: On November 10, President Obama asked the FCC to implement his plan for regulating the Internet, one that favors government regulation over marketplace competition. As has been widely reported in the press, the FCC has been scrambling ever since to figure out a way to do just that. The courts will ultimately decide this order’s fate. Litigants are already lawyering up to seek a judicial review of these new rules. And given this order’s many glaring legal flaws, they’ll have plenty of fodder.
- 40:46 Ajit Pai: This order imposes intrusive government regulations that won’t work, to solve a problem that doesn’t exist, using legal authority the FCC doesn’t have. Accordingly, I dissent.
- 1:03:15 Ajit Pai: And I’m optimistic that we will look back on today’s vote as an aberration, a temporary deviation from the bipartisan consensus that has served us so well. I don’t know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future commission, but I do believe its days are numbered.
Telecommunications Bill Signing: February 8, 1996 (Bill Signing)
- 4:59 Vice President Al Gore: I firmly believe that the proper role of government in the development of the information superhighway is to promote and achieve at every stage of growth, at every level of operation, at every scale, the public interest values of democracy, education, and economic and social well-being for all of our citizens. If we do not see to it that every project, every network, every system addresses the public interest at the beginning, then when will it be addressed? How can we expect the final organism to express these values if they are not included in its DNA, so to speak, at the beginning? For that reason, in 1993, on behalf of the president, I presented five principles that the Clinton administration would seek in any telecommunication reform legislation: private investment, competition, universal service, open access, and flexible regulations.
Telecommunications Act Conference: December 12, 1995 (Conference)
- 22:15 Rep. Rick Boucher: In the very near future, most homes are going to have two broadband wires that will offer the combination of telephone service and cable TV service. One of those will have started as a telephone wire; the other will have started as a cable television wire. The programming that is affiliated with the owners of those wires obviously is going to be available to consumers in the homes, but other programmers may very well be denied access. And if access to other programming is denied, consumers will be deprived of video offerings to which they should be entitled.
Telecommunications Act Conference: December 6, 1995 (Conference)
- 27:14 Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL): No one has a right to give pornography to children. While we have not previously criminalized this area on the federal level, it’s necessary to do so now. This is because of the advent of the Internet, which enables someone in one location to instantly send or make available pornography to children in every city in America. Children don’t have the right to buy pornography in any store in America, yet some would argue there’s a right to give it to them free, delivered to their home by computer.
Telecommunications Act Conference: Telecommunications Reform Act of 1995; October 25, 1995
- 8:58 Sen. John McCain: I believe the Senate bill in its present form is far too regulatory. Any bill that gives 80 new tasks to the Federal Communications Commission, in my view, does not meet the standard that we have set for ourselves of trying to allow everyone to compete in a deregulated—in an environment that is changing so quickly that none of us predicted five years ago that it would look like it is today. And today we have no idea what the industry will look like in five years.
- 32:00 Rep. Steve Buyer (R-IN): One thing that does please me is when I think about one of the last renaissance of electricity, electricity goes to the big cities and leaves out the rural areas, and then we have to come up with the REMCs. When we move America to the World Wide Web, though, we’re not allowing cherry-picking and to move to the great resources in the big cities, but the rural areas will be included in the World Wide Web. And so I congratulate both of you to making sure that that happens, that some of the strength of this country lies in the heart of America, and I think that’s pretty exciting.
House Commerce Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance: Telecommunications Act Part 1; May 11, 1995
- 1:25:36 Rep. Dan Schaefer (R-CO): Unlike the case for telephone service, every American household has access to at least one, and soon many more, competitive video providers today. The case simply has not yet been made that the federal government has a duty to do anything other than provide for access to alternative in the case of a purely entertainment service like the upper tier of cable. We have provided that access. We will expand that access in this bill. It is time we focus on the real issues addressed by 1555, the building of advanced broadband networks and the benefits that it will bring to all Americans.
House Energy & Commerce Committee: Cable Television Deregulation; February 2, 1994
- Bill Reddersen – Bell South Corporation Senior Vice President
- Jeffery Chester – Center for Media Education Executive Director
- Edward Reilly – President of McGraw-HIll Broadcasting
- 7:27 Rep. Rick Boucher (D-VA): As telephone companies are able to offer cable TV service inside their telephone-service areas, they’ll have the financial incentive to deploy the broadband technology that will facilitate the simultaneous transport of voice and cable TV service and data messages, building out the infrastructure, creating the last mile of the information highway, that distance from the telephone company’s central office into the premises of the user homes and businesses throughout the nation.
- 24:36 Bill Reddersen: It is our goal to have you pass legislation this year that enables us to deploy a second broadband network that will compete effectively with cable and bring consumers new and innovative educational healthcare information and entertainment services.
- 25:12 Bill Reddersen: However, unless you eliminate the competitive advantages this bill confers upon cable companies, our industry will not be able to compete effectively against companies that already have a dominant, if not monopoly, position in programming markets, nor will the bill encourage telephone companies to make or continue the substantial investments required for widespread development of broadband networks. Cable companies are formidable competitors and do not need protection. Cable is a 21-billion-dollar-a-year-gross business, passing over 90% of U.S. homes. According to a recent survey, only 53 out of over 10,000 cable systems compete against a second cable operator. Cable has vertically integrated and diversified into multi-billion-dollar programming and communications businesses. Cable companies and the emerging cable telco alliances clearly do not need protection from telephone companies that currently have no video programming market share, virtually no broadband facilities to the home, and little or no operational experience in the video marketplace.
- 37:55 Jeffrey Chester: While we share the goal of this committee that every community be served by at least two wires, there are no guarantees that this will be achieved in the near future, even with the proposed legislation. We are also troubled by the unprecedented wave of mergers and acquisitions taking place in the media industries. Serious concerns are raised by the emergence of new media giants controlling regional Bell operating companies, cable systems, TV and film studios, newspapers, broadcasting properties, and information service providers. Without federal intervention, control of the nation’s media system will be in the hands of fewer and less-accountable companies, possessing even more concentrated power.
- 40:45 Bill Reddersen: Just as we have established private librar—public libraries—and public highways, we need to create public arenas in the electronic commons in the media landscape. A vibrant telecommunication civic sector will be an essential counterbalance to the commercial forces that will dominate the information superhighway.
- 2:24:38 Bill Reddersen: The common carrier requirements of this legislation are essentially, if executed the way they have in the telephone industry, the second model that you articulated, and that is that if additional capacity was required and someone shows up, we build. Okay? That is the fundamental premise underlying common carrier regulation.
- 2:30:04 Rep. Michael Oxley (R-OH): Does it really matter if BellSouth builds the wire, the limitless wire, or the cable industry builds the limitless wire if indeed it is essentially a limitless technology that is open to everyone who wants to sell his or her product, including Mr. Reilly, on that particular technology? If you have the common carrier status and you have the ability to deliver your programming, is it really relevant whether BellSouth owns the wire or Mr. Angstrom owns the wire, and if it is indeed relevant, why is it relevant, Mr. Reilly? Edward Reilly: Well, it’s relevant in any instance where the company that owns the wire is also engaged in the programming business at all. If someone is prepared to build a wire and agree that they would never want to be in the programming business, and that we were given very strong safeguards— Oxley: Why is that a problem? Reilly: Well, because we end up inevitably competing with our programming— Oxley: Of course you do. Reilly: —against someone who owns both the wire and the programming content that goes on that wire. Reilly: Why is it relevant, though, if BellSouth owns the wire and you’ve got limitless access and limitless capacity, why does it make any difference that the people who supposedly own the wire are competing against you? They’re competing head to head. You are simply paying the same shelf space for your product as the owner of the product that’s providing that kind of service. Oxley: Well, we have—we believe that there is ample opportunity in that type of environment for a number of anti-competitive activities that would certainly damage our ability to try and be an equal player. Where we get positioned on the wire, what comes up when the menu first comes up, how the billing is organized—there’s a whole host of issues that go along with owning the wire and setting up the infrastructure that can create a significant competitive advantage to someone who chooses to use that for their own program service.
- 2:38:47 Rep. Billy Tauzin (D-LA): I think the key for us here is to guarantee that there are comparable providers of services and how they get it to us, as long as it’s comparable and we have choice and all people have access to it. If we guarantee that kind of policy for America, we don’t much have to worry about the risk. Consumers take over from there as long as we guarantee, if we do have common carriage on a line, that the owner of the line can’t discriminate; can’t play games with the competitors who own that line; that you can’t play bottleneck games, as publishers are complaining about in the other bill we’re going to debate pretty soon on MMJ; that, in fact, there’s fairness on the playing field. Here’s a question for you in regard to that fairness: If the telephone companies or the utility companies can in fact do what you can’t do—produce their own programs and send them over those lines, even if we restrict them in the number of channels they can use, which I really have a problem with, as Mr. Boucher does—are we going to make sure that the same provisions of program access apply to those producers of programs that we’ve applied to the cable producers? You raised the issue in your testimony. You talked about the problems we had in cable where they own both the software and the hardware—in essence, the content and the conduit—and the problems consumers had as a result of that. Are we going to require the cable companies make 75% of their channels available to competitors? Are we going to require that the utility companies, when they build lines, fiber optic lines, are going to be similarly required to make access available to their competitors? If we’re talking about a real competitive world here, are we going to build a world where some have obligations others don’t have? Some must carry and some don’t? Some must give access to their programs to competitors, as cable is now required to do because of the bill we successfully passed over the president’s veto last year, and over cable’s objection? Are we going to make that same requirement now available—enforced upon other competitors who build wires, or who build some other systems, who decide to deliver it under some particle-beam technology we haven’t dreamed of yet, or the satellite delivery systems that are coming into play? Are we going to create some real equality in this competition, that’s going to give consumers comparable choices? That’s the key word to me—comparable choices. Are we going to do that? Or are we going to dictate the technology, confine you to so many channels, not require you to carry what others have to carry, put requirements on one competitor—the cable company can get on the telephone company’s lines, but the telephone company can’t get on the cable system’s line? Come on. It seems to me if we’re going to build policy that gets consumers real, comparable choices out there, we have to answer all those questions.
Video: What the world looks like without net neutrality
Video: Net Neutrality II: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
To Adam Hettler for performing The Most Dangerous time of the Year!
See more of Adam here!
Background music for The Most Dangerous Time of the Year.
Design by Only Child Imaginations
Music Presented in This Episode
- Intro & Exit: Tired of Being Lied To by David Ippolito (found on Music Alley by mevio)