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Taking “toll free” to the 21st century level

If you want to see the true colors of net neutrality rule proponents look no further on their stances on zero rating.  A zero rated site is a site that a wireless carrier has exempted from its fee structure or data cap.  The company behind the site may have decided that exempting access to its site via its app may be good for attracting additional eyeballs which means more people viewing the ads that may be appearing on the site.  For a wireless carrier wanting to heat up the competition with other carriers, offering their subscribers data cap exemption when accessing popular websites like Facebook may help garner subscribers.

So far it looks like when 12 June 2015 rolls around and the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rules kick in that the strategic partnership between mobile carriers and app developers in the form of zero rating may remain unharmed.  Carriers, according to published reports, are turning to zero rating because of the additional revenues that can be generated by advertisers.  And as I allued to earlier, app developers or advertisers are taking advantage of the traffic they can create by making it easy for consumers to avoid additional data charges when viewing their sites.

The FCC, in some deference to the net neutrality advocacy groups, will apply additional scrutiny to these arrangements because at the core of the net neutrality debate is whether content providers that bring better value, better marketing, or both, should be able to dominate a market against those content providers who are not able to market their content as valuable.  The FCC will, on a case-by-case basis, determine whether a consumer’s lawful access to internet content is being hindered by broadband access providers.

The “case-by-case” review will cause snarls on the way to product deployment and those delays will increase an app developers cost of deployment combined with lost ad revenues as the FCC makes up its mind as to whether a strategic partnership between app developers, advertisers, and broadband access providers violates net neutrality.  I believe that such arrangements even under the FCC’s net neutrality rule shouldn’t be viewed as violations.

First, there is apparently no blocking on the part of a broadband access provider pursuant to Section 8.5 of the FCC’s net neutrality rules.  The app providers are, by definition, edge providers and they are offering sponsorship of subscriber data as such.  Nothing in a zero rating scheme appears to prohibit any broadband access provider from visiting sites that compete with a zero rated site.

Second, zero rating a site is not the same as throttling according to Section 8.7 of the FCC’s rules.  Throttling is defined as impairing or degrading lawful internet traffic; slowing it down and negatively impacting the quality of the traffic’s flow.  Nothing in the definition of zero rating implies that a broadband provider would have to slow down traffic to site B in order to meet its zero rating promise to site A.  There would be no incentive since the company behind the app is reimbursing the broadband provider for revenues lost when exempting subscribers from data caps.

Finally, I wouldn’t equate zero rating with paid prioritization, and apparently not even net neutrality proponents are doing so.  Under Section 8.9 of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, paid prioritization sees a broadband access provider managing its network in order to favor one content provider’s traffic over another provider’s traffic in exchange for compensation.  In the case of zero rating, a content provider’s traffic is not being given any higher priority treatment.  Nothing in the definition of zero rating says that one provider’s traffic moves through a faster lane.  Neither can an argument be made that consumers are being disadvantaged.  On the contrary, the consumer benefits because they are accessing more content at a lower cost.

Zero rating is a win for consumers and content providers. The FCC, while expected to scrutinize these relationships, should not go overboard with oversight in this area.

 

 

 

http://www.npr.org/blogs/alltechconsidered/2015/02/25/388948293/what-net-neutrality-rules-could-mean-for-your-wireless-carrier

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Shouldn’t the Federal Communications Commission​ show that its regulation of commerce increases commerce?

I think it is safe to say that broadband access has an impact on commerce, specifically commerce that passes though the digital conduit we know as the internet. Individuals and businesses use broadband access to acquire online content, deliver services, and communicate.

It would be a difficult argument to make that Congress’ constitutonal power to regulate commerce did not include the electronic commerce. There is a rational basis for concluding that broadband substantially effects interstate commerce. While broadband access is a sub-division of the internet; it provides that last mile connection between end-user and the information cloud, As an impacting factor on commerce, its regulation would come under the reach of Congress.

I suspect that Congress’ regulation of commerce was a left over from the mercantilist period that started to wind down in the late 18th century. Mercantilist policies were designed to protect the government and commercial class. By restraining imports and expanding exports, governments and their commercial classes hoped to expand their nations’ wealth.

Contrast the mercantilist approach with the laissez-faire and free market approach that would replace it. The free market approached emphasized trade based on specialization in production benefited importer and exporter. Economic welfare would, because of free trade and freer markets, be spread across a population outside of government and commercial interests.

But whether in the context of a mercantilist system or today’s preferred free market system, no government would regulate commerce in order to reduce it’s output and vibrancy. The Federal Communications Commission, as a creature of Congress, should, as an economic regulator, demonstrate that its Title II rules for broadband access would do just that. Simply repeating the phrase, “virtuous cycle” doesn’t equate to evidence of growth in the knowledge economy spawned by new rules. In 300-plus pages of support for less than ten pages of actual rules, the FCC offerred no evidence of rigorous quantitative support for growth in commerce as a result of its new rules.

The courts like using deference to an expert agency as their out for not expanding the overreach of government. It may be time to turn the tables on that judicial philosophy by requiring agencies show how their actions improve our economy.

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In space, one can do fast lanes

A great piece in The Economist discussing increasing the deployment of #broadband infrastructure in lesser developed countries.with the use of lower flying satellites, hot air balloons, and drones. These lower cost options relative to those provided by legacy satellite firms are hoped to provide the “backbone infrastructure that connects wireless telephone companies to each other and to the backbone provider making access to high-speed broadband increasingly feasible for consumers in poor countries.

The article discusses briefly the regulatory hurdles that companies like #Facebook may face when attempting to deploy drones. In addition the article notes that transmission speeds may be higher in space where traffic travels 40% faster via dark matter versus through a piece of cable.

I wonder if the FCC would try to extend net neutrality rules in space should Facebook decide that it’s hot air balloon program could work for underserved rural areas in the United States? Probably not. It’s #netneutrality rules apply primarily to the behavior of broadband internet access providers.

According to Section 8.9(a) of the FCC’s net neutrality rules, a person engaged in the provision of broadband internet access service … shall not engage in paid prioritization. This sentence right here would get Facebook or #Google off the hook for being subject to the rule.

What’s also interesting is the definition of “paid prioritization.” Let’s say that Google or Facebook is successful in launching their “where no man has gone before” initiative to connect the globe via low flying satellites or drones. Let’s also suppose that they decide to go head-to-head with Netflix and provide over-the-top streaming content. Given their size and capital, Facebook or Google could afford to enter a “bill and keep” arrangement with broadband access providers to move their traffic to the last-mile on a priority basis without paying for prioritization. The Facebook or Google brand would give them some traction with consumers given Google’s search prowess and Facebook’s growing bankbook of connections worldwide.

Since the Federal Communications Commission​ allegedly has no intention of regulating rates and would have less incentive to deny a traffic exchange agreement that involves no compensation or advantage for a third-party affiliate, The broadband access provider could increase rates to recover the costs of its clogging network.

Now this scenario assumes that Facebook and Google’s global initiatives are a success, but should their drone and hot air balloon programs work, their will be incentives to connect the dots here at home by making these initiatives available to rural America where demand is great.

I hope they try it….. .

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Why can’t broadband competition proponents focus on the real picture?

The Center for Public Integrity released a post yesterday that has me questioning their economics integrity.  In the post, the Center describes how broadband providers avoid competition by arguing that the “Internet service grew out of the old telephone and cable TV systems, where only two companies owned direct lines to U.S. households.”  Sorry, but that’s only half the story.  As I shared in my comments on the post:

“Advocates for competition in the broadband access platform market need look no further than the localities that ensure that only the provider with the deepest pockets are able to get entry into a market. Onerous financial, regulatory, and technical barriers keep ouyt smaller players. Richard Bennett makes a powerful point about legacy carriers having no incentives to go beyond service territories they negotiated for or acquired when initiating services.

In addition, there is too much emphasis on the “number of carriers” narrative. This is a capital intensive business and unless new players can muster up the cash, then you won’t see a third wireline carrier entering a market.

Finally, when will “competition proponents” come out and give a definitive number for the amount of carriers in a market necessary for a declaration of competition. Two, three, or four carriers still reflects an imperfect competitive market.”

Not only are Federal Communications Commission rules not promoting broadband deployment, but local government policies are adding to the hindrance.  No one complains about whether Interstate 4 connecting Tampa and Orlando should have a duplicate interstate running along it.  The concern is whether there is enough commerce running over the highway to spur economic growth and justify widening the existing lanes.

For example, according to comScore.com’s report , 2015 U.S. Digital Future in Focus”, in 2014, mobile app usage made up the majority of digital media activity.  Traditional television ratings fell as more Americans obtained content from emerging online platforms.    Seventy-five percent of all digital consumers over the age of 18 use desktop and mobile platforms to access Internet content.

Another sign of mobile’s encroachment on the desktop is growth in smartphone use.  According to comScore, smartphone use increased 16% in 2014.

I just started watching “House of Cards” (Okay, I’m a late bloomer) so now I’m counted as one of 7 of 8 Americans watching video content online, with half of these consumers watching content online on a daily basis.

And about that commerce moving along the roadway?  E-commerce grew 14% in 2014 with businesses raking in $268.5 billion.

All this content and e-commerce activity happening while consumers allegedly are “abused” by a lack of broadband access platform competition.  Policy makers shouldn’t waste their time on making an oligopoly a larger oligopoly.  The focus should be on clearing spectrum for greater use of the internet and ensuring that the provision of data, whether in the form of video or text, is not interfered with.

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Netflix, Tumblr wanted 1995 not 1934

Internet Innovation Alliance’s Bruce Mehlman wrote an insightful blog post last Friday about the second thoughts companies like Netflix are having about the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to reclassify broadband services as plain old telephone service.  Netflix’s befuddlement over the FCC’s decision to use Title II to drop the regulatory hammer on the internet ecosystem has me wondering how much on the same page were these net neutrality proponents?  The push for net neutrality may be an example of how dysfinctional the left can be when it sells a narrative to multiple classes within its big tent and has the manage the disappointment that ironically occurs when it gets what it wants.

Netflix’s insistence that heavy Ttle II regulation was not a part of its end game has me wondering if progressives had really settled down on a definition of a “fair and open” internet.  The left apparently has not.  To Netflix and other Silicon Valley giants, fair and open appears to mean an internet where they can interconnect in a pre-1996 manner; under some bill and keep methodology with any type of technology they deemed appropriate regardless of a broadband provider’s discomfort.

To the end-users, the four million confused members of the masses, “fair and open” was a rallying cry of the democratic wish; that a fair internet will respect their rights to communicate with whatever website of their choice and move data equally to the end-user no matter the source of the content.

Narrative managers like Public Knowledge and Free Press were successful in conflating the two narratives but were probably inept in educating their supporters, like Tumblr‘s David Karp, as to the downside of using Title II as a mechanism for reconciling the two narratives.  Title II, Mr. Karp and the rest of his Silicon Valley cohorts should have been told that their content operations, particularly the agreements that they enter into to connect to broadband networks, were not guaranteed to escape fees for the exchange of data nor was privacy from prying consumer or competitor eyes or noninterference from the government going to be avoidable.

The FCC may find itself a big loser resulting from its participation in a disingenuous conflation of varying narratives.  It must now deliver on a basket of promises to the consumer as it answers complaints from an an ill-informed electorate regarding every perceived slight in service practice and rate assessments.  It won’t be able to tell consumers or the markets that it never intended to regulate rates.  Consumers won’t stand for that because improving their consumer welfare calls for what they believe is a long awaited initiative to regulate rates.

You wanted 1995?  You may have to settle for 1934.