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kottke.org posts about FCC

The pizza metaphor of net neutrality

posted by Tim Carmody   Dec 15, 2017

green-lantern-pizza.jpeg

Net neutrality has been explained using pizza at least three times. Jason flagged this dead-to-rights analogy by Craigslist founder Craig Newmark from 2006:

Let’s say you call Joe’s Pizza and the first thing you hear is a message saying you’ll be connected in a minute or two, but if you want, you can be connected to Pizza Hut right away. That’s not fair, right? You called Joe’s and want some Joe’s pizza. Well, that’s how some telecommunications executives want the Internet to operate, with some Web sites easier to access than others. For them, this would be a money-making regime.

Recently, John Bergmayer, senior counsel at Public Knowledge, brought the pizza metaphor back:

Here is a simple metaphor: The telephone system, which has long been regulated to protect the public interest. You probably wouldn’t like it if you tried to order pizza from your favorite local place and were connected to a Papa John’s instead because it had got some special deal. Or if a Verizon telephone only connected to other Verizon phones. Obviously, there are a lot of differences between internet access and the telephone and how they work and how they are built, but the basic principle that essential communication systems ought to be non-discriminatory is the same.

However, the most deliberate and thorough consideration of Internet-as-pizza came before either of these interventions, and it came from the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. In a dissent in 2005’s NCTA and FCC v. Brand X Internet Services’s decision, Scalia wrote:

If, for example, I call up a pizzeria and ask whether they offer delivery, both common sense and common “usage,” […] would prevent them from answering: ‘No, we do not offer delivery-but if you order a pizza from us, we’ll bake it for you and then bring it to your house.’ The logical response to this would be something on the order of, ‘so, you do offer delivery.’ But our pizza-man may continue to deny the obvious and explain, paraphrasing the FCC and the Court: ‘No, even though we bring the pizza to your house, we are not actually “offering” you delivery, because the delivery that we provide to our end users is “part and parcel” of our pizzeria-pizza-at-home service and is “integral to its other capabilities.”’… Any reasonable customer would conclude at that point that his interlocutor was either crazy or following some too-clever-by-half legal advice.

For Scalia, delivery is delivery. You buy the access to the internet — plus telephone, or cable, TV, or whatever it is you’re paying for — and you buy the access to the pipe. “It is therefore inevitable that customers will regard the competing cable-modem service as giving them both computing functionality
and the physical pipe by which that functionality comes to their computer —both the pizza and the delivery service that nondelivery pizzerias require to be purchased from the cab company.”

Like so many things, it’s a fiction to avoid regulation:

The Court contends that this analogy is inapposite because one need not have a pizza delivered… whereas one must purchase the cable connection in order to use cable’s ISP functions. But the ISP functions provided by the cable company can be used without cable delivery — by accessing them from an Internet connection other than cable. The merger of the physical connection and Internet functions in cable’s offerings has nothing to do with the “inextricably intertwined” nature of the two (like a car and its carpet), but is an artificial product of the cable company is marketing decision not to offer the two separately, so that the Commission could (by the Declaratory Ruling under review here) exempt it from common-carrier status.

Of course, getting the pizza (or the Internet) delivered to your house is the whole point, as the telecommunications companies understood full well:

The myth that the pizzeria does not offer delivery becomes even more difficult to maintain when the pizzeria advertises quick delivery as one of its advantages over competitors. That, of course, is the case with cable broadband.

Scalia was a first-rate jerk, and often extraordinarily wrong, but was generally solid on tech issues. He understood them, not in a technical way, but in a practical one. He also understood how to reason about them, both from analogy and from principle. He was never bumfuzzled, and was rarely compromised. His conservative successors haven’t proved to have the same qualities.

It’s good to look back at this, though, because it shows that we’ve been in an endless tug of war over net neutrality for more than twenty years. Even in 2014, it looked like the Obama-appointed regulators were as likely to gut net neutrality as reinforce and codify it. The new deregulation of the internet is a loss, but it doesn’t have to be a permanent one, unless we let it.

It also helps us to never forget that the FCC’s Ajit Pai danced with a Pizzagate conspiracy promoter before taking a dump all over the World Wide Web. I can’t say exactly how this ties into the pizza metaphor. But it’s in there somewhere, like a bad topping buried under too much cheese.

(via The Atlantic and Adrienne LaFrance)

Obama’s plan for “a free and open internet”

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2014

Today, President Obama came out strongly for net neutrality and asked for the FCC’s help in implementing his plan.

More than any other invention of our time, the Internet has unlocked possibilities we could just barely imagine a generation ago. And here’s a big reason we’ve seen such incredible growth and innovation: Most Internet providers have treated Internet traffic equally. That’s a principle known as “net neutrality” — and it says that an entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money.

That’s what President Obama believes, and what he means when he says there should be no gatekeepers between you and your favorite online sites and services.

Tim Wu, who coined the term “net neutrality”, reacted positively to the President’s statement.

With another compromise looming, the President today released a video that suggests, in short, that he’s had it. In unusually explicit terms, he has told the agency exactly what it should do. Enough with the preëmptive compromises, the efforts to appease the carriers, and other forms of wiggle and wobble. Instead, the President said, enact a clear, bright-line ban on slow lanes, and fire up the agency’s strongest legal authority, Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, the “main guns” of the battleship F.C.C.

Motherboard notes that the classification of the internet as a utility would not include rate regulations.

To do this, Obama said the FCC should reclassify internet services as a utility, but should do it in a way that has slightly different rules than say, an electric company. Obama’s suggested rules focus specifically on net neutrality and service interruption, not prices, a concession to big telecom companies.

“I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services,” he said.

In a series of tweets, historian Yoni Appelbaum connects the dots between net neutrality and the Affordable Care Act a bit more elegantly than Ted Cruz did:

Obama’s call for net neutrality his latest effort to grow the economy by defending equality of opportunity. The ACA is the biggest boon for entrepreneurs in generations, allowing individuals to take economic risks without risking their health. The common thread here is a policy framework giving individuals the same access to essential resources as enormous institutions. Obama prefers to stress commonalities than to define his policies in such oppositional terms. But still, that’s what he’s doing here.

This makes me think of Tom Junod’s piece on increased access passes at a water park, The Water-Park Scandal and the Two Americas in the Raw: Are We a Nation of Line-Cutters, Or Are We the Line?

It wouldn’t be so bad, if the line still moved. But it doesn’t. It stops, every time a group of people with Flash Passes cut to the front. You used to be able to go on, say, three or four rides an hour, even on the most crowded days. Now you go on one or two. After four hours at Whitewater the other day, my daughter and I had gone on five. And so it’s not just that some people can afford to pay for an enhanced experience. It’s that your experience — what you’ve paid full price for — has been devalued. The experience of the line becomes an infernal humiliation; and the experience of avoiding the line becomes the only way to enjoy the water park. You used to pay for equal access; now you have to pay for access that’s more equal than the access afforded others. The commonality of experience is lost, and the lines are striated not simply by who can pay for a Flash Pass and who can’t; they’re also striated by race and class. The people sporting the Flash Passes are almost exclusively white, and they tend to be in better shape than those stuck on line. They tend to have fewer tattoos, and to look less, well, pagan. And by the end of the day, they start cutting lines where Flash Passes don’t even apply — because they feel entitled to — and none of them, not even their kids, will so much as look at you.

I think 2008 and 2012 Obama voters are nodding their heads here at Appelbaum’s and Junod’s thoughts…Obama’s statement on net neutrality and the rationale behind it is what they voted for. If you watched any of Ken Burns’ The Roosevelts on PBS, you’ll recognize this is right out of TR’s and FDR’s playbooks. Worth noting also that Teddy was a Republican and FDR a Democrat.

The FCC tosses net neutrality out the window

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 24, 2014

According to several sources, the FCC is set to propose new net neutrality rules “that would allow broadband providers to charge companies a premium for access to their fastest lanes.” That’s decent news for deep-pocketed companies that can pay for faster connectivity and even better news for broadband providers that can charge more for a speedier service. It’s bad news for everyone else. Faster service for some means slower service for others. Many of today’s big internet companies got that way because they had access to a level playing field. The Internet let the little guy become the big guy. And now the big guy wants to have an unfair advantage with faster pipes. The hell with that.

Ryan Singel: The FCC plans to save the Internet by destroying it.

Tim Wu in The New Yorker: “It threatens to make the Internet just like everything else in American society: unequal in a way that deeply threatens our long-term prosperity.”

The dirty BLEEP: things you can’t say / things left unsaid

posted by Tim Carmody   Aug 27, 2013

Maria Bustillos’ “Curses! The birth of the bleep and modern American censorship” has a blacked-out subhed. Mouse over the black virtual ink and you see “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits,” George Carlin’s original list of Seven Dirty Words that can’t be said on radio or television.

How’d we get here? Supposedly it was because of a nursery rhyme vaguely referencing contraception read live on a Newark radio station by actress Olga Petrova: “There was an old woman who lived in a shoe, She had so many children because she didn’t know what to do.” The rhyme wasn’t censored, but engineers later built a switch to turn on music in case anyone recording went blue.

In the US, the government owns the airwaves and regulates their content, and bases its criteria for obscenity in part on past court cases regulating print.

In order to be considered obscenity, the material in question must pass a three-pronged test: first, it has to “appeal to the prurient interest,” or be be liable to turn the average person on sexually; secondly, it must describe sexual conduct “in a patently offensive way;” and finally, “the material taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” The last is how both Ulysses and Lolita slide out of being considered “obscene.”

But in addition to obscenity, the FCC also has rules governing “indecency” and “profanity”; all three are technically distinct in the same way that a moron is different from an imbecile, which in turn is different from an idiot. And most of the censorship action happens within TV or radio networks’ standards and practices departments anyways.

Once the bleep is introduced, however, it takes on its own meaning. It’s a kind of zero-sign that artists can use deliberately for effect.

The writers of Arrested Development are masters of this comic technique, repeatedly pushing the envelope. They snuck the word “fucking” past prime time television censors by putting half the word at the beginning of the show, and half at the end.

But it was with the aid of censor bleeping that Arrested Development reached the summit of its satiric genius. The show’s creator, Mitch Hurwitz, told Neda Ulaby of NPR, “We realized, you know, it’s more fun to not know exactly what it is that we’re saying … It becomes kind of a puzzle for people. And I think it’s about, you know, letting your imagination do the work.”

The full essay tracks the legal and cultural history of the bleep from its high-analog origins up to its culmination/obsolescence in the digital dump track. Now if a producer really wants to keep you from hearing something that might make someone uncomfortable, they just cut it right out of the audio, and you’d never know it was there.

Disclosure: I worked at The Verge and discussed this feature when it was in development. Also, freelance writer Maria Bustillos is awesome.

Cynical-C shares some of the more interesting

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2008

Cynical-C shares some of the more interesting complaints received by the FCC about television programming. One viewer complains about The Family Guy:

The show has no redeeming/moral value what so ever. The show actually had the gall to show GOD in bed with a young woman ready to have sexual intercourse and the dialogue to go with that event, including the use of condoms. They also had Jesus and his earthly father Joseph having an argument. Along with portraying the total disrespect of family values Stewie hitting his mother, the father and son ganging up on the wife/mother, there was also a male sexual predator in this episode as well.; The whole show was quite revolting. It should be taken off the air.