The FCC has repealed its own 2015 net neutrality rules

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  • The FCC has repealed its own 2015 net neutrality rules in a 3-2 vote.
  • The repeal is likely to be met with lawsuits and a push to bring back the regulations through legislation in Congress.
  • The FCC’s meeting was interrupted by a security threat, forcing everyone to evacuate the room while police searched the area with sniffing dogs.

The FCC has voted to repeal net neutrality protections it put in place in 2015, taking away regulations that barred internet service providers (ISPs) from slowing down content, charging you more to access sites and online services, and charging users or companies for so-called “fast lanes” to some sites.

The vote passed the commission in a 3-2, party-line vote, with Republicans voting for the repeal and Democrats voting against it.

The meeting was interrupted on advice of security in the middle of Chairman Ajit Pai’s remarks. Guards and police dogs could be seen on The Washington Post’s live feed searching the room after it was evacuated. It was not immediately clear what prompted the evacuation. We’ve reached out to the FCC for comment.

The repeal is likely to result in higher prices and fewer choices for consumers, and it will be a boon to ISPs that will enter into a new environment where they’ll be free to commoditize the internet and figure out new ways make money off their customers’ internet access.

Now that the repeal is official, it’s likely headed to court. Several groups have already said they plan to file lawsuits against the decision on the grounds that the FCC didn’t seriously consider the millions of pro-net neutrality comments submitted to the commission. There will also be a push to get Congress to bring back net neutrality regulations through legislation.

The order brought out passionate comments from Republicans and Democrats on the commission. Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn gave the most impassioned plea for protecting net neutrality.

“I dissent from this fiercely-spun, legally-lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order,” Clyburn said in her opening remarks.

The Republican members of the commission brought back their previous arguments from when the first proposed net neutrality repeal. They said it would bring back the lighter regulations the internet flourished under for most of its existence and would allow ISPs to invest more in broadband technologies.

Here are some quick and dirty notes taken during the discussion of the net neutrality repeal:

  • Deborah Salons, attorney advisor at the Wireline Competition Bureau gives a statement to the commission that says largely backs FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to repeal net neutrality.
  • Commissioner Mignon Clyburn gave her comments, saying she dissents on the “consumer-harming” internet order. She also said she’s “outraged” at the FCC’s move. It’s an impassioned statement.
  • Clyburn points out that some Republican members of Congress have dissented against the repeal order and that the majority of people favor keeping net neutrality.
  • Clyburn says the FCC doesn’t appear to be serving and listening to the people they represent.
  • Clyburn points out that the FCC has refused to cooperate with several state attorney generals to look into fake public comments on the net neutrality repeal order.
  • Clyburn says social media has been important for the spread of information during important events like the protests in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri, which gained traction through Twitter.
  • Commissioner Michael O’Rielly gives his statement. He supports the repeal. He says the decision will not “break the internet,“ but will return to the rules that the internet was governed by before.
  • O’Rielly says net neutrality rules put too many heavy regulations on ISPs. He blames a YouTube video from the Obama administration for convincing the FCC to regulate the internet in 2015.
  • O’Rielly says many of the harms net neutrality advocates fear are just theoretical. ISPs will have to disclose changes they make and will be subject to FTC regulations.
  • O’Rielly addresses the fake comments submitted to the FCC. He says they have no impact on the decision and that legitimate comments were not ignored. “Many were obscenity-laced tirades,“ he said.
  • Commissioner Brendan Carr’s statement says “this is a great day” for the end of an Obama-era regulation. He says the order is turning to lighter regulation that has worked for most of the internet’s existence.
  • Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel says she dissents. “This decision puts the Federal Communication Commission on the wrong side of history,“ she said.
  • Rosenworcel says ISPs will have the “legal green light” to discriminate against internet traffic and charge consumers more with the repeal of net neutrality.
  • Rosenworcel calls the process to repeal net neutrality “ugly” and admonished the leadership for not holding public hearings.
  • Chairman Ajit Pai gives his comments. Like his fellow Republican commissioners, he points to the “light-touch” regulations that allowed the internet to grow and enable new businesses and innovations.
  • “The internet wasn’t broken in 2015… it was the one thing… we can all agree has been a stunning success,“ Pai said.
  • Pai says broadband investment has decreased since the 2015 because of net neutrality regulations.
  • Pai cuts his statement short, saying security advised the commission to take a recess.
  • The feed from the FCC cut out, but the Washington Post’s cameras are still streaming on YouTube. Multiple dogs can be seen sniffing under chairs.
  • Guards gave the clear signal and people reentered the room after being evacuated. Pai continued his remarks.
  • Pai says the new order would require more transparency from ISPs, which will be enforced by the FTC.
  • Pai likens advertising and promoted tweets, blocked apps, and more prioritization and threats to internet freedom.

Rarest of Rare Discoveries: a Swimming Dinosaur

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The dinosaur was the size of a turkey and had a neck like a swan, teeth like a crocodile, forelimbs similar to a penguin’s flippers, and clawed feet ideal for use on land. It’s such a strange assortment of features that researchers who identified the new species from a fossil used X-rays to make sure the nearly complete skeleton wasn’t a jumble of unrelated bones. “It looked like an alien,“ Vincent Fernandez, co-author of a new Nature study, tells the New York Times. “It’s like a mixture of things that could have been put together.“ That was a legitimate concern, as the 75-million-year-old fossil found in southern Mongolia was sold on the black market before an international team of researchers got their hands on it. They say the fossil is indeed real and identify the creature as Halszkaraptor escuilliei, a relative of the velociraptor and perhaps only the second swimming dinosaur ever found.

Researchers explain H. escuilliei’s snout, similar to that of a goose, had sensory nerves like those crocodiles use to detect movement in water. The dinosaur’s hooked teeth and long neck also would’ve helped it snatch fish from the surface of lakes and rivers it navigated with flipper-like forelimbs. The long digits of its non-webbed feet may have helped it swim, too, though researchers say the dinosaur likely would’ve laid its eggs on land, per National Geographic. The fossil—explore a virtual 3D image at Live Science—is now in Belgium but will be returned to Mongolia. For researchers, it represents all of the surprising dinosaur discoveries still to be made. Says study co-author Philip Currie, “Even in very well-known sites, we can still find new animals and show that they have an incredible diversity of forms that we never even expected before.“

German intelligence warns of increased Chinese cyberspying

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The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence agency warned Sunday that China allegedly is using social networks to try to cultivate lawmakers and other officials as sources.

Hans-Georg Maassen said his agency, known by its German acronym BfV, believes more than 10,000 Germans have been targeted by Chinese intelligence agents posing as consultants, headhunters or researchers, primarily on the social networking site LinkedIn.

“This is a broad-based attempt to infiltrate in particular parliaments, ministries and government agencies,” Maassen said.

In addition, Chinese hackers increasingly are launching attacks on European companies through trusted suppliers, he alleged.

The BfV established a task force early this year which examined the use of fake profiles on social networks over nine months. The agency provided journalists with what it said were eight of the most prolific fake profiles on LinkedIn used by alleged Chinese spies.

Using names such as Lily Wu, Laeticia Chen or Alex Li, the profiles sport impressive resumes, hundreds of contacts and attractive pictures of young professionals.

The agency also named six organizations it alleged Chinese spies use to cloak their approaches, including one called the Association France Euro-Chine and another named Global View Strategic Consulting.

Messages seeking comment from the organizations weren’t immediately returned.

Maassen warned that Chinese cybergroups also were using so-called “supply-chain attacks” to get around companies’ online defenses.

Such attacks target IT workers and others who work for trusted service providers to send malicious software into the networks of organizations the attackers are interested in.

“The infections are difficult to detect, since network connections between service providers and their customers aren’t suspicious,” the BfV said. “This gives the attacker an even better disguise than before.”

FCC’s net neutrality plan may have even bigger ramifications in light of obscure court case

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The Federal Communications Commission’s plan to eliminate its net neutrality rules next week is expected to hand a major victory to Internet service providers. But any day now, a federal court is expected to weigh in on a case that could dramatically expand the scope of that deregulation - potentially giving the industry an even bigger win, and leaving the government even less prepared to handle net neutrality complaints in the future, according to consumer groups.

The case involves AT&T and one of the nation’s top consumer protection agencies, the Federal Trade Commission. At stake is the FTC’s ability to prosecute companies that act in unfair or deceptive ways.

The litigation is significant as the FCC prepares to transfer more responsibility to the FTC for handling net neutrality complaints. (Net neutrality is the principle that Internet providers shouldn’t speed up some websites while slowing down others, particularly in exchange for money - a tactic industry critics say could hurt innovation online and prevent the growth of new startups.)

If AT&T gets its way in the case, the FTC’s ability to pursue misbehaving companies – over net neutrality issues or otherwise – may be sharply curtailed, redrawing the extent of the FTC’s jurisdiction.

The FTC is currently empowered to sue misbehaving companies that mislead or lie to the public. But that power comes with an exception: It doesn’t extend to a special class of businesses that are known as “common carriers.“ This is a group that includes not just telecom companies but also oil and gas pipelines, as well as freight and cruise liners. By order of Congress, the FTC isn’t allowed to take enforcement actions against these types of firms.

Thus far, the so-called “common carrier exemption” has applied to a specific slice of the economy. But the case before the Ninth Circuit, FTC v. AT&T Mobility, could vastly expand the number of companies that qualify for the exemption. In a prior ruling in the suit, a federal judge effectively said that any company that runs a telecom subsidiary is a common carrier in its entirety. Previously, only the subsidiary would have been considered a common carrier – not the larger corporate entity. The case is currently being reheard, and analysts say a decision could come at any time.

The opinion last year from Judge Richard Clifton at the Ninth Circuit surprised many antitrust and telecom experts, in part because it could have important ramifications for net neutrality. A company that provides Internet access, such as AT&T, could seek an exemption from FTC net neutrality enforcement by pointing to its voice business and claim common carrier status under the ruling.

At the same time, it could also limit its net neutrality liability at the FCC, because as a result of the repeal of the net neutrality rules, the FCC would no longer recognize AT&T’s broadband business as one that can be regulated like a telecommunications carrier.

In that scenario, neither the FCC nor the FTC would offer consumers robust protections from alleged net neutrality abuses, consumer groups say.

“A vote to approve the [FCC’s net neutrality plan], followed by a decision favorable to AT&T Mobility by the Ninth Circuit, would therefore create a ‘regulatory gap’ that would leave consumers utterly unprotected,“ wrote Public Knowledge in a letter this week asking the FCC to delay its vote.

The FCC responded to the letter by saying the vote will proceed as planned, but did not address the issue of the potential regulatory gap.

“This is just evidence that supporters of heavy-handed Internet regulations are becoming more desperate by the day as their effort to defeat Chairman Pai’s plan to restore Internet freedom has stalled,“ the agency said in a statement Monday to Ars Technica.

Some antitrust experts say the consequences of a ruling against the FTC could go far beyond net neutrality, opening the door to many more companies trying to escape FTC oversight by claiming they are common carriers.

“Companies whose common carrier activities represent only a minuscule portion of their business could bootstrap that status into an exemption from FTC oversight of even non-common carrier activities,“ said Robert Cooper, an antitrust lawyer at the firm Boies Schiller Flexner.

Under Clifton’s ruling, Alphabet, Google’s parent company, could theoretically say it is a common carrier because one of its many subsidiaries is Google Fiber, a small voice and Internet access provider. “Every smart company” that could afford it would seek to take advantage of the loophole by buying or launching a small telecom company, said David Vladeck, a law professor at Georgetown University and a former director of the FTC’s consumer protection bureau.

“The Ninth Circuit opinion threatens to carve out an enormous swath of the economy from FTC oversight,“ said Vladeck. “Google’s currently under two FTC consent decrees. Who knows whether those decrees would stand?“

Some analysts say the Ninth Circuit rehearing is unlikely to result in Clifton’s ruling being upheld, precisely because of the staggering consequences for the U.S. economy. But even if it were, they say, Congress could step in to address the issue.

“The legislative fix here could not be simpler: it would be a one-page bill to reaffirm the position taken by every FTC chairman and commissioner of either party for decades,“ said Berin Szoka, president of the think tank TechFreedom.

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