Another Exercise in Wasting One’s Time

Quite some time ago now, I sat down at my computer and composed a letter to my Representative in Congress. Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2).  I have no clue why I continue to waste my time, as (1) I don’t believe Mr. Amodei ever bothers to read what I write, (2) some staffer who clearly hasn’t read nor understand what I’ve written selects some canned statement that in no way speaks to the concern I’ve taken MY precious time to communicate, and (3) whoever sends the response must believe females are incapable of writing a letter (even though I check  the “MS.” box on his email my office webform) because they almost always get my gender wrong (today’s email just used M. as though I must have no gender whatsoever) ….. but then, I digress …..

As I started to say, I took the time to write to Mr. Amodei asking him to support the new FCC rules designed to protect the net neutrality of ordinary consumers of the internet.  Those rules are designed to ensure that the relatively few big telecom corporations are not allowed to create fast lanes for their favored few, slow lanes for most others and relatively no lanes whatsoever for even others.

NetNeutrality

Video Explanation:
https://static01.nyt.com/video/players/offsite/index.html?videoId=100000003569336

Since I wrote my letter, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit,  in a 2-to-1 decision from a three-judge panel on June 14,  upheld the F.C.C. rules declaring broadband as a utility.  Clearly, Rep. Mark Amodei’s staff must not have read that New York Times article announcing the ruling, because today, I got this email from his office which clearly indicates HE thinks the FCC rules of regulatory overreach.

NetNeutrality

I’d love to be able to “connect” with my Congressman on Facebook or Twitter, but that’s NOT possible as he’s blocked me from being able to follow him on Twitter and block me from commenting on his Facebook content.  I guess we’ll have to just disagree yet again, just as we disagree regarding the collection of sales taxes on internet sales. Sales taxes support our local community infrastructure. Failure to have a mechanism in place, to ensure they’re collected on all internet sales, means local merchants are left at competitive disadvantage and our community infrastructure suffers when those taxes aren’t collected and remitted. But that was another letter, on a previous day, where we achieved no meeting of the minds, and Rep. Amodei sided with his corporate benefactors, and not his  constituents.

There is, however, hope on the horizon. We have a strong Democratic candidate on the ticket this fall — Chip Evans. He could use our help. I’ve “chipped in” to help Chip become the first Democrat to ever hold the CD2 seat. I certainly hope you’ll do the same so we can bring a progressive candidate to the US House from Nevada’s Congressional District 2.


On April 16, Rep. Amodei voted “AYE” for passage of H.Res 672 dealing with this issue:

Resolved, That at any time after adoption of this resolution the Speaker may, pursuant to clause 2(b) of rule XVIII, declare the House resolved into the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union for consideration of the bill (H.R. 2666) to prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from regulating the rates charged for broadband Internet access service. The first reading of the bill shall be dispensed with. All points of order against consideration of the bill are waived. General debate shall be confined to the bill and shall not exceed one hour equally divided and controlled by the chair and ranking minority member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. After general debate the bill shall be considered for amendment under the five-minute rule. It shall be in order to consider as an original bill for the purpose of amendment under the five-minute rule the amendment in the nature of a substitute recommended by the Committee on Energy and Commerce now printed in the bill. The committee amendment in the nature of a substitute shall be considered as read. All points of order against the committee amendment in the nature of a substitute are waived. No amendment to the committee amendment in the nature of a substitute shall be in order except those printed in the report of the Committee on Rules accompanying this resolution. Each such amendment may be offered only in the order printed in the report, may be offered only by a Member designated in the report, shall be considered as read, shall be debatable for the time specified in the report equally divided and controlled by the proponent and an opponent, shall not be subject to amendment, and shall not be subject to a demand for division of the question in the House or in the Committee of the Whole. All points of order against such amendments are waived. At the conclusion of consideration of the bill for amendment the Committee shall rise and report the bill to the House with such amendments as may have been adopted. Any Member may demand a separate vote in the House on any amendment adopted in the Committee of the Whole to the bill or to the committee amendment in the nature of a substitute. The previous question shall be considered as ordered on the bill and amendments thereto to final passage without intervening motion except one motion to recommit with or without instructions.


On 4/15/2016. Rep. Amodei voted “AYE” for passage of HR 2666.  While this bill has been passed by the U.S. House, it has not yet been set for a vote in the U.S. Senate.

Summary of HR 2666:

No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act

(Sec. 2) This bill prohibits the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from regulating the rates charged for broadband Internet access service.

(Sec. 3) Nothing in this Act shall be construed to affect the FCC’s authority to: (1) condition receipt of universal service support by a provider of broadband Internet access service on the regulation of the rates charged by such provider for the supported service, or (2) enforce regulations relating to truth-in-billing requirements or paid prioritization.

(Sec. 4) Broadband Internet access service shall not be construed to include data roaming or interconnection for purposes of this Act.

Can You Hear Us Now?

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is refusing to participate in any public hearings on Net Neutrality.

By Mary Alice Crim and Candace Clement

Mary-Alice-CrimCandace-Clement

On a recent Monday night in Brooklyn, five empty chairs stood on stage — one for each member of the Federal Communications Commission. A crowd had amassed in the room for a public hearing to send this message to the agency: Don’t hurt the open Internet.

But the commissioners’ absence sent a stronger message: We’re not listening.

The Corporate Fox in the Chicken Coop, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

When Corporate Foxes Mind Internet Coops, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The FCC — the agency charged with regulating telecommunications — is expected to vote by the end of the year on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan to let Internet service providers (ISPs) offer “fast lanes” to companies that can afford to pay for speedier access.

Hundreds of businesses, organizations, and websites that rely on an open Internet have slammed the plan, which would kill Net Neutrality — the principle that requires ISPs to treat all traffic equally. Net Neutrality has made the Internet an unrivaled space for free speech, civic participation, innovation and opportunity. Without it, a few ISPs would become the gatekeepers of everything we do, say, and see online.

During the public comment period, nearly 4 million people— a record-breaking figure — weighed in on Wheeler’s plan. A whopping 99 percent of these comments oppose this proposal, according to one study.

Given the unprecedented public interest in this issue, many groups have urged the FCC to get out of Washington and host public hearings. But so far Wheeler has ignored this call.

In fact, the FCC has gone out of its way to avoid attending public gatherings like the one in Brooklyn. It’s been more than five years since all five FCC commissioners left Washington together to participate in a public hearing where anyone could testify.

These kinds of public hearings used to be commonplace for the agency, regardless of which political party was in control of Washington. But Wheeler’s FCC is different.

Instead of appearing at events with open microphones, Wheeler — a former lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries — has opted to attend industry trade shows. In fact, all five commissioners consistently attend the annual conventions of the cable, wireless, broadcasting, and electronics industries.

Yet somehow they just can’t find the time to meet with the public.

The FCC seems to fear hearing from everyday people who use the Internet to communicate, connect, learn, and survive. And while some of the commissioners have left Washington on a few occasions since Wheeler proposed his rules (Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai convened an official FCC hearing in College Station, Texas), the chairman himself has been absent from any public events on Net Neutrality.

“This is a real inflection point for us as a society,” says former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who attended dozens of public hearings during his decade in office and spoke at the event in Brooklyn. “The decisions they’re going to make between now and the end of the year are probably the most important that the FCC is going to make in a generation.”

The commissioners, Copps concludes, shouldn’t vote “until they get out of the Beltway and listen to the people who have to live with the results of their decisions.”

As the clock ticks down to a final FCC vote — which could happen as soon as December — the question looms large: Where is Tom Wheeler? And why won’t he meet with the people he’s supposed to serve?

Candace Clement is the Internet campaign director for Free Press and Mary Alice Crim is the organization’s field director. FreePress.net
Distributed via OtherWords

Why You Should Fear Big Bad Cable

Comcast’s plan to merge with Time Warner Cable could leave millions of Americans stranded on the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road.

— by 

Timothy  Karr

Twenty-five years ago this month, Sir Tim Berners-Lee introduced an open protocol for sharing information that gave everyday Internet users the power over what they created and whom they connected with online.

His concept quickly evolved into the World Wide Web. One British research scientist’s idea for people-to-people communications became a global engine for empowerment, economic growth and free speech.

Berners-Lee’s idea was to create a web of limitless access and choice. And he was largely successful.

We can use YouTube to share and watch videos, or we can switch over to Vimeo, Instagram, or Blip. We can speak directly with friends using Skype, Hangout, FaceTime or other voice and video services. We can connect and communicate anything with anyone at any time.

But all of that could change.

Big phone and cable companies want to turn the open network into their private fiefdoms — and take away many of the freedoms Internet users now take for granted. And regulators are letting them get away with it.

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable Internet provider, recently announced a $45 billion deal to buy our nation’s second-largest cable company, Time Warner Cable. If the Justice Department and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approve the merger, the new communications giant will operate in 43 of the 50 largest metropolitan markets. It would control service more than one-third of all broadband Internet subscribers depend on for their access to the digital world.

This new mega-company would be able to leverage its power to set industry standards for price and services. This isn’t hypothetical. Comcast is already moving on plans to favor one online business or website over another.

In February, Comcast brokered a deal to prioritize Netflix videos over other streaming video content. This is likely the first of similar arrangements to give fast-lane privileges to certain companies while relegating the rest of our communications to the digital equivalent of a winding dirt road.

A federal appeals court paved the way for this maneuver in January when it overturned the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules. This means that Internet service providers are now free to block or degrade connections to websites and services they don’t like.

Comcast’s plan to re-route online content is happening at a time when it profits immensely from control over access. Over the past 17 years, the price of basic cable service has grown at more than twice the annual rate of inflation. And analysts put the company’s profit margins on providing broadband at 80 percent or higher.

It’s no wonder cable Internet is so profitable: There’s no competition. Most U.S. consumers have just one choice of cable provider. And this situation will only get worse if the government approves Comcast’s merger.

Given its many anti-competitive, anti-consumer elements, the combination of the two biggest cable companies should be a non-starter for regulators. But Washington has a mixed record on media consolidation. In January 2011, the FCC and Justice Department gave Comcast’s takeover of NBCUniversal a green light. Yet by the end of that same year they blocked AT&T’s attempt to purchase T-Mobile.

The move against AT&T offers reason for hope. But the government won’t block Comcast’s new merger unless the public speaks out. More than 60,000 people have already told regulators to stop it.

And customers of Comcast and Time Warner Cable should oppose the deal in even bigger numbers: Both companies regularly rank among the worst of the worst in consumer surveys.

Letting these two corporations join forces to control all things online could be the end of Berners-Lee’s vision of a people-powered Web — and the beginning of the reign of big, bad cable.


Timothy Karr is the senior director of strategy for Free Press. FreePress.net.  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

39 Days left in this Congressional Session

Congress is back on today from August recess, and it faces two big issues in its first full week of work:  whether to approve military action in Syria and a 2014 federal spending.

Authorizing Military Action in Syria 

On Aug. 31, the President sent Congress draft legislation that would authorize use of the US military “in connection with the conflict in Syria.” In the past week, more than 2,700 POPVOX users weighed in on the President’s proposal — overwhelmingly in opposition — and even the media took note: Check out POPVOX on NBC news and The Hill.

Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved its resolution to authorize the limited and specified use of the US Armed Forces. The resolution allows up to 90 days of military action against Syria, and due to a bipartisan amendment in committee, it allows the Administration to take steps to change the “momentum on the battlefield” to help Syrian rebels.  Weigh in on the Senate’s resolution at POPVOX.

  • The resolution passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a close 10-7 vote, and the Obama Administration will be pushing Senators to support it before this week’s vote. It’s not yet clear if the Senate can pass the resolution given scant public support for a new military campaign, even one that the Administration says would be very limited and would not involve ground troops. Meanwhile, House leaders have indicated they would let the Senate act first, and might consider Syria language later in the month. There’s also a chance the House doesn’t vote at all, particularly if the Senate fails to pass its language.

Learn more and find other bills related to Syria in PopVox’s Issue Spotlight.

2014 Federal Spending 

The House will take the lead on 2014 spending, by considering a short-term continuing resolution. The plan is to allow the government to operate for the first few months of the new fiscal year, so Congress can spend time working on a debt ceiling agreement. As of Friday, the House had not revealed the text of the continuing resolution it hopes to pass.

Also in the House

The No Subsidies Without Verification Act (HR 2775): would prohibit any federal subsidies for Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges from being provided until there is a system in place that verifies eligibility as outlined by current law, according to the bill sponsor.

  • HR2775 reflects Republican disapproval of an Obama administration decision not to verify eligibility of people receiving subsidies. Many Republicans said failing to see if people qualify for these subsidies will only lead to more demand for the payments, which would drive up the costs of Obamacare.

Finally, the House will consider several suspension bills early in the week, including several Senate land use bills:

As you can see, Immigration Reform is nowhere on the House agenda at this point.

Failing a Test of the Emergency Broadcast System

Our emergency communications system needs an upgrade.
By 

Stephanie_WordenIn the early morning hours of April 19, some residents of Watertown, Massachusetts, received an automated phone call telling them to “shelter in place” while the suspected Boston marathon bomber roamed the neighborhood.

The system worked — to a degree. One homeowner ultimately realized a bleeding man, who turned out to be Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had holed up in the boat on his property. The Watertown man alerted the authorities, and the suspect went into custody.

But why didn’t everyone in Watertown get the call? Because our emergency communications system is flawed.

Free Press-Emergency-Filipão 28

The federal government began building official emergency notification systems in the 1950s. The most recognizable of these notifications is the Emergency Broadcast System, with its familiar bands of color spanning the television screen and the recognizable drone of repeated beeps on the radio announcing: “This is a test. This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.”

Clearly, we can no longer rely on TV and radio as the primary means of mass emergency communication. In Boston, danger arose at night while people were sleeping, their radios and TVs turned off. And in the information age, a growing number of people don’t access TV through traditional cable news or local broadcasting stations. Many of us get the news through other media.

The next logical step would be to meet people where they are. That means using our nation’s telecommunications infrastructure as a platform for emergency alerts. Nearly every American has a landline phone or a mobile wireless device, such as a smartphone. These gizmos are becoming the preferred medium for how we connect with each other and the world at large.

We already have the technology to deliver mass phone calls to large populations. Some reverse-911 systems are quite sophisticated, and can send calls to all landlines in very specific locations. But Americans are migrating away from landlines in favor of wireless. If you don’t have a landline, you’re out of range — and possibly out of luck.

Furthermore, many reverse-911 systems don’t work via Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. VoIP routes call traffic over Internet Protocol networks rather than traditional telephone networks.

These technological limitations are a huge concern, since the most recent data indicate that less than half of American households have a traditional landline phone. One in three relies on wireless phones, while another quarter have VoIP landlines.

When promoting these reverse-911 systems, providers tout subscribers’ ability to self-register their phone numbers. While this is certainly a step in the right direction, the opt-in model is confusing for consumers.

And to complicate matters, some of our country’s most powerful communications companies are pushing to completely eliminate state and federal oversight of their services.

If policymakers go along with this grand plan, fewer people will have access to critical services like reverse 911, and no regulatory agency will have the authority to do anything about it.

So what’s the best way to reach people during an emergency?

Our leaders must encourage innovation and get the government to adapt to new and emerging technologies.

There are laws on the books about wireless emergency communications. The Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act established Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs), which are text-like warning messages that are 90 characters long and are sent in intervals.

But the only devices that are technologically equipped to receive these messages are high-priced smartphones. Those who can’t afford them won’t be able to receive emergency notifications.

And commercial wireless service providers aren’t even required to distribute Wireless Emergency Alerts: Participation in the program is completely voluntary. Low-income and senior populations tend to subscribe to phone plans from smaller wireless carriers that are less likely to offer WEAs.

This all adds up to a communications industry that relies on the public airwaves but isn’t required to alert the public in times of crisis.

As people cut their landlines and transition away from traditional TV and radio, we need effective emergency notification systems that will work on all mobile devices. The FCC should speed up the transition to mobile notification systems and pressure the industry to ensure that these systems work on all cellphones and landlines.

These changes can help save lives.


Stephanie Worden is a former project assistant at Free Press. FreePress.net  Photo Credit to:  Filipão 28/Flickr  Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

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