What Do We Learn From Big Data Visualizations Of Net Neutrality Comments?

“Big data” and “Data visualization” are all very trendy these days. As with all tools, data analysis and data visualization require appropriate context to make sense. As my old mentor Professor Robert Seidman liked to caution: “you generally find the most firetrucks at the biggest fires.” Understanding context tells you cause and effect so that you don’t try to fight fires by eliminating firetrucks.

 

Which brings me to the analysis of the public comments in the FCC’s ongoing network neutrality proceeding. The FCC has received about 1.1 million comments so far (we can expect more when replies come due in September). To facilitate further discussion and debate, the FCC released these comments in 5 XML Files that make doing searches and analysis much easier. We have started to see some data crunching of this data, with a range of results. As someone with 15 years experience with FCC proceedings, I can put these in some context.

 

Briefly, the volume of individual comments and the analysis shows a high level of engagement. More importantly, the comments do not simply reflect the talking points we see in the mainstream media and debated in DC policy circles. A lot of people are actually thinking about this issue and deciding why it is important to them personally, and it has nothing to do with cat videos or Netflix. For a lot of people, this debate goes to fundamental values of basic fairness, opportunity, the American Dream, and the preserving free expression and diversity of views.

 

Perhaps most tellingly, the number of individual comments opposing net neutrality regulations as unnecessary and overly burdensome government regulation of the Internet is so small as to be statistically irrelevant to data visualization analysis. Those people who are engaged on this and care enough to comment all run one way — they want the FCC to adopt rules that prohibit paid prioritization and protect an open Internet.

 

I unpack this below . . .

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Net Neutrality Videos Much More Interesting Than I Could Ever Make.

It’s impossible to keep up all the videos about net neutrality. Heck, I have been delinquent in flogging my own. For example, I have two new “5 Minutes With Harold Feld” videos out: one on what I call “virtual redlining” (about how permitting prioritized content invariably leads to targeting and segmenting audiences in ways that recreate all the usual stereotypes and re-marginalizing traditionally marginalized communities) and this on “rural virtual redlining” (how allowing prioritization further isolates rural and exacerbates the digital divide).

As you can see from the pathetic hit counts if you click through, my personal contributions are a total flop. Why? Because, in my own words, 5 Minutes with Harold Feld takes “insanely complicated and incredibly boring stuff and make it slightly less boring because THIS STUFF IS IMPORTANT.” So even at my most wildly successful, I am only slightly less boring. This apparently does not help much.

However, lots of much more interesting and entertaining people have used the power of online video — and even traditional media — to provide a much less boring perspective. I’m listing my top 5 Internet videos below the break. Please feel free to add links to your favorites in the comment section, assuming you did not fall asleep trying to watch my videos.

Actually interesting Net Neutrality videos below . . .

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A Guide To The Mechanics of the Comcast/TWC Deal. Part IV: Congress, The White House And The Public.

If you read most of the reporting on the Comcast/TWC deal, you would think that Congress and the White House play a huge role. In reality, as I alluded to in the Part I intro, not so much. The political stuff tends to get over-reported in part because it’s easier (it took me about 3000 words just to explain how the antitrust and the FCC review work never mind any actual reporting), and in part because everyone assumes that Washington is a corrupt cesspit where politics invariably determine outcomes.

 

As always, while the political matters, it plays a much more complicated role in the mix. Below, I will unpack how the political pieces (including public input) play into the actual legal and merits analysis. Again, keep in mind that I’m not talking about merits here. I’m just trying to explain how the process works so people can keep track over the course of the merger review (which will last a minimum of 6 months and may well run for more than a year).

 

Political details below . . . .

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Jessica Rosenworcel And the Mantle of Michael Copps

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved forward on the transition of the phone system by adopting an order at its February open meeting. By a 5-0 vote, in addition to a number of other important first steps, the FCC adopted a set of governing principles for the transition. The principles focus on core values: Universal Service, Consumer protection, Competition, and Public Safety.

 

These principles did not just drop out of thin air.  Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel first proposed them in this speech in December of 2012. While few have noticed, Rosenworcel continued to quietly and effectively push this framework, culminating in a unanimous vote with broad approval from both corporations and public interest groups.

 

More amazing for this hyper-partisan and contentious times, the principles capture both progressive values and conservative values, traditionally shared by Republicans and Democrats alike. The idea that access to communications services is so essential to participation in society that the Federal government has a role in making sure that ALL Americans have affordable access goes back to the New Deal and Section 1 of the Communications Act. But the basic precept is even older, going all the way back to Founding Fathers. Article I of the Constitution gives Congress the express power “to establish post offices and post roads” in recognition that ensuring that all Americans can communicate with each other is what helps make us a single country and one people — a core conservative value. As the arteries of commerce and the means of communication have evolved from post roads and post offices to steam trains and telegraphs to the automobile and the telephone, we have continued to preserve this idea of universal service to All Americans as a core traditional value of what it means to be an American.

 

But as essential and shared as these values are, no one was talking about them as the basis for the Phone Transition, or how to bring them forward into what Chairman Wheeler calls “The Fourth Network Revolution,” until Commissioner Rosenworcel started the conversation. From the time AT&T first proposed a “sunset of the Public Switched Telephone Network” during the National Broadband Plan in 2009 until Rosenworcel’s December 2012 speech, no one even talked about values – let alone proposed that a set of fundamental values needed to guide the transition. The conversation remained mired — and stalled — in myopic focus and bickering on the details of specific regulations. Commissioner Rosenworcel understood well before anyone else that the best way to move forward, and the way to keep the process firmly centered on the public interest, required reaffirming our fundamental values as the first step.

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AT&T/CIA Deal Violates Telemarketing Rules — So I’d Like to Opt Out.

It’s like getting Al Capone for tax evasion.

 

The CIA and AT&T figured out how to get around legal restrictions on giving the CIA access to domestic phone call information, but in doing so they violated a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that protects you against telemarketing.

 

According to this story in the New York Times, the CIA paid AT&T to provide them with information on calls passing through its international telephone system. Because federal law prevents the CIA from spying inside the United States, the CIA could not legally get info on calls terminating in the U.S. because they are not eligible for any of the mammoth sized loopholes Congress has already punched in the fabric of our civil liberties. But, of course, calls from suspected foreign terrorists (aka “anyone outside the United States”) that terminate in the United States are the most interesting to the CIA.

 

So what’s a poor spy agency and a patriotic mega-Corp who understand that sometimes you have to break few privacy eggs to make a freedom omelet gonna do? According to the article, when a call originated or terminated in the United States, AT&T would “mask” the identity by revealing only some of the digits of the phone number and not the identity. The CIA could then refer this information to the FBI, which can use all those mammoth sized loopholes Congress punched in our civil liberties to get a court order and require AT&T to provide the rest of the phone number and all other relevant identifying information. Then the FBI can kick that back that information to the CIA.

 

Unfortunately for AT&T, this pretty clearly violates the Customer Proprietary Network Information rule (CPNI).  Fortunately for AT&T, it can solve this problem fairly easily by notifying customers of the possibility the CIA might ask for their phone number if they get a call from outside the country and asking customers who don’t want this exciting new service to opt out. Please start with Senator Feinstien and ask her if she wants to opt out of having her international calls monitored by the CIA. Given her legislative track record on this, I’m sure she won’t mind.

 

Some analysis of why this violates the CPNI rules below . . .

 

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Will The Fed Shutdown Screw Up This Season’s Xmas Tech Toys?

No one outside the small world of telecom policy cared much that the Federal Shutdown would close the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Other than the hope that closing the FCC would open the door for Joss Whedon to slip in some full frontal nudity and cussing on the next episode of Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D., most people don’t think of the FCC as having much impact on their lives.

 

It turns out, however, that the shut down of the FCC may very well delay the sale of new tech toys scheduled for release this Christmas season. And I don’t just mean the obviously FCC things like new cellphones. Every toy with a computer chip, every TV set, every microwave oven, and just about everything else that produces “radio frequency emissions” needs an FCC certification before it can get shipped to stores for sale.

 

Why? Because things that draw a lot of electric current that oscillates rapidly, like a computer chip, produces radio interference. If you have something that shoots short bursts of high powered radio waves, like your microwave oven (aka “radarrange oven” for you spectrum trivia buffs), you want to make sure the device won’t ‘leak’ into neighboring spectrum and cause interference with things like cordless phones. Also, if your cell phone or wifi chip gets the power jacked up too high, it can microwave your ear off or something.

 

So to keep your microwave from interfering with your cellphone, and to keep your cellphone from microwaving your face, federal law requires the FCC to certify all devices that produce radio waves (either intentionally for communication or just incident to use). Most of the actual testing is done by outside laboratories, and the process as a whole is fairly well streamlined. But with no one at the FCC to review the lab reports and process the paper work, the backlog is starting to mount and all the tech toys for this year’s Christmas season are stuck in Santa’s workshop, aka storehouses Singapore, waiting for certification so they can get to U.S. stores in time.

 

The FCC on average processes a little over 1000 applications for certification a month. They process them in the order they arrive. But not only is no one at home right now processing the ones that were already filed, you can’t file new ones. If you are a manufacturer, you now have absolutely no idea if your product will be on shelves on Black Friday. Worse, your competitor’s product could be there a week or two weeks ahead of yours, getting all the reviews and becoming The Hot Tech Toy of The Season while your product languishes on loading docks.

 

And it’s even worse for us Jewish people. Chanukah hits at Thanksgiving this year. Thousands of disappointed little Jewish boys and girls will be stuck with all the Uncool Last Year’s Models, while all their non-Jewish friends can still get the latest models on the 24th of December. Our last Thanksgivingukkah for the next millennium, ruined by the federal shutdown!

 

Will this be the Shutdown That Ruins Christmas? Or will the spirit of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men come back to Washington, and get those hardworking, lovable little federal elves back to the FCC branch office at Santa’s workshop in time?

 

Stay tuned . . . .

Chairwoman Clyburn Shows How It’s Done — Doing The Job On Prison Phone Rate Reform

Today was an extremely emotional meeting at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). After ten years of fighting, the FCC resolved the Petition filed by Martha Wright and concluded that the rates charged for prisoners to make and receive phone calls are “unjust and unreasonable” and therefore violate Section 201 of the Communications Act. The FCC imposed interim rates and issued a further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to ensure that rates going forward are based on actual cost to provide service, not jacked up outrageously because prisoners and their families have no choice. Importantly, the FCC ruled that the “commissions” (aka kickbacks) paid to jails for the right to exploit the helpless and profit from the misery of their families are not a “cost” that can be recovered. (FCC press release here.)

 

As you can tell from the above, I feel rather strongly about this. I have written before that I regard this as a case where the words of Isaiah 1:17 and Zachariah 7:10 apply. I also find it of great significance that this is Shabbas Shoftim, the Sabbath on which we read the portion of the book of Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 (called “Shoftim,’ judges, because it begins with “Judges and officers shall you give yourselves in all your gates that the Lord shall give unto to dwell in, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgement.”) Specifically, Verse 16:20 enjoins the people “Justice, Justice shalt though pursue! ”

 

It has been a privilege to support the efforts and advocacy of so many of my friends. I dare not begin to list, because I would invariably leave someone out. The level of organization work in the field, meshing with advocacy efforts at the FCC and on the Hill, has been astounding.  For years, this proceeding went in fits and starts, constantly delayed, because who cares about the incarcerated and their families? Out of sight, ignored, and generally regarded with suspicion. So their cause was neglected and ignored — until then-Commissioner Clyburn became a champion for it in the FCC and breathed new life into our efforts.

 

Today, Chairwoman Clyburn gave justice. Justice to the Wright Petitioners, and to every family trying desperately to maintain basic contact with incarcerated loved ones. The promise of the Rule of Law is that the benefit of law applies to ALL. The promise of Section 201 of the Communications Act for 75 years has been that everyone is entitled to just and reasonable rates, no matter who you are or where you are. Section 1 of the Act promises to secure the benefit of the Act to “all Americans.

Today the FCC affirmed that all Americans means ALL Americans. Even the most powerless, even those being punished for crimes, are still people protected by the rule of law. Their families are still people, entitled to depend upon the rule of law to protect them from the cruel choice of talking to their father, son, granddaughter or paying for basic necessities because a phone call that normally costs pennies costs the families of prisoners more than $15 for a few minutes.

Today, the FCC, under the leadership of Chairwoman Clyburn, stood up and did its job. it found exhorbitant prison phone rates unjust and unreasonable, mandated an interim cap, and issued a notice of further rulemaking to ensure that future rates are cost-based.

To quote from scripture one last time. “It is from the Lord, and it is wondrous in our eyes. Behold the Day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and make merry!” (Psalms 118)

Finally, this is a reminder of what can happen when people in power have the courage to do their job. Govornment and regulation CAN protect the helpless. People demanding justice CAN make a difference. A “government bureaucrat” like Chairwoman Clyburn CAN be a champion for justice for the oppressed and it DOES matter.

How much greater the shame, then, to those in government who refuse to act when needed? Or those who cynically refuse to believe anything we common folk do can make a difference?

To you handwringers, and you shruggers of shoulders, I tell you this: the problem is not with “the system.” The problem is YOU.

Stay tuned . . . .

Associated Press is shocked –SHOCKED — To Discover Government Cannot Be Trusted With Power to Spy

Dutch explorer and author Arthur Wichmann summed up the history of bungled exploration attempts of New Guinea with the phrase “Nothing learned, everything forgotten.”

I find myself thinking of this phrase in light of the revelations that the Department of Justice (DoJ) asked for, and got, two-months of phone and data records for Associated Press reporters. DoJ apparently asked for the data because it wanted to find the source of a leak that the Administration foiled an Al-Qeda plot. According to sources, the AP apparently sat on the story for several days to protect the lives of U.S. agents, but balked at further delay so the Administration could break the news itself in a press conference. AP accuses the DoJ of abusing its surveillance powers to punish AP for raining on its parade. Verizon apparently turned over the information with nary a quiver or question.

The Administration denies any knowledge of DoJ’s actions, it also denies any comparisons to Nixon, saying: “People who make these kinds of comparisons need to check their history.”

Actually, a bunch of us do and did. Which is why I say “nothing learned, everything forgotten.”

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Will Walden Wipe Out DMCA and CISPA To Take Out Net Neutrality In The Name of “Internet Freedom?”

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will begin mark up of the so-called “Internet Freedom Bill.” As explained in the Majority Briefing Memo, we’re still on about that whole “the ITU will take control of the Internet and black helicopters will come for out name servers” thing.”  Unfortunately, as keeps happening with this, it looks like some folks want to hijack what should be a show of unity to promote their own partisan domestic agenda. Specifically, does the bill as worded undercut the (by accident or design) the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) authority to do things like Network Neutrality?

 

As I elaborate below, however, this is not so much a stab at net neutrality and the FCC generally as it is a murder/suicide. You can’t claim that this clips the wings of the FCC to do net neutrality by making a law that the U.S. is opposed to “government control” of the Internet without also eliminating laws that deal with cybersecurity, copyright enforcement online, privacy, and a range of other stuff that are just as much “government control” of the Internet — but that most Republicans opposed to net neutrality actually like. Plus, as I noted last week when discussing the rural call completion problem, taking the FCC out of the equation may have some unforseen nasty consequences that even Republicans might not like.

 

More below . . . .

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SOPA Blackout, One Year Later

A number of folks are celebrating the one year anniversary of the Great Sopa Blackout as Internet Freedom Day. I’m glad, because it deserves celebrating and remembering.

In the first place we ought to remember how the broader Internet community came together and shifted SOPA from “unstoppable” to “dead” in a week. As I noted at the time, the cynical “will have all manner of sensible explanations for what ‘really’ happened and why what we did didn’t ‘really’ make a difference.” As time goes on, and it turns out that corruption continues to corrode our political system, the siren call of the cynics likewise corrodes the will to resist despite the evidence of our own experience. It’s important, therefore, to remember what we achieved and to realize that we can therefore achieve it again.

Nor was SOPA the one-time event some seem to believe. True culture change takes time and persistence. SOPA/PIPA was not an aberration, it resulted from the normal way of doing business in Washington, where legislators and policymakers treated copyright and Internet issues as industry food fights, brokering backroom compromises between lobbyists without concern for the public or the public interest. So yes, CISPA passed the House — after Republican House leaders rushed the vote to outrun public protest. But as I observed at the time, this was a sign of weakness, not strength. Despite industry buy in, public resistance from the “Internet constituency” killed the bill in the Senate.

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