Posts by John Bergmayer:

One of the stranger ideas going around among the anti-net neutrality crowd (and in the Federal Communication Commission’s proposal to roll back the net neutrality rules) is the idea that the current rules, adopted by the previous FCC, contain a loophole that allows Internet Service Providers to block whatever websites they want to and generally avoid the rules, provided they use the right magic words–namely, that if they simply say ahead of time they intend to violate the rules, they’re no longer subject to them. This is wrong—the rules only cover broadband ISPs, which are defined quite precisely, but there’s no way for an ISP to continue offering what anyone would recognize as “internet access” without being covered by the rules.
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Internet Service Providers and their allies sometimes act as though net neutrality advocates are picking on them for no good reason, as though we selected their industry out of a hat. But the internet access market is unique in several ways, which is precisely what justifies treating them as common carriers, who are obligated to offer a nondiscriminatory service on reasonable terms. Since net neutrality, which was thought to be a settled issue, has become unsettled again, it’s time to review some of the features of the broadband market that show why net neutrality rules are essential.
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This probably doesn’t come as a shock to you, but programmers, broadcasters, and big Hollywood studios can’t ask cable companies to break the law, and vice versa.
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The Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to unlock the box will benefit all pay-TV viewers, but particularly rural Americans, who often rely heavily on pay-TV subscriptions for information and entertainment. Where they live, broadband may be unavailable or slow, and over-the-air TV may be hard to tune in. Under the proposal that FCC Chairman Wheeler has circulated to the other four Commissioners, rural Americans will save money on device rental fees and benefit from an upgrade to their viewing experience.
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People with iPhones should be able to use the music services they want on their devices. Unfortunately, some of Apple’s App Store policies make this difficult. Spotify, for example, is at a serious disadvantage on Apple devices, when compared to Apple’s own music service. There’s currently no way to subscribe to Spotify through its iOS app, and when it did offer this feature, Spotify had to charge more than what Apple charges for its own music subscription, just to account for the 30% cut that Apple takes of in-app transactions.
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Two of the copyright issues Public Knowledge has been working on seem disconnected from each other, but there’s a common theme. In both the performance rights organization (PRO) and set-top box issues, policymakers should be clear in their understanding that private contracts can’t be used to override other provisions of law. Just as the interests of some industry participants don’t override legally-binding consent decrees, neither do they provide a reason for the Federal Communications Commission to ignore its statutory mandate to promote set-top box competition.
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Some critics of the Federal Communications Commission’s “Unlock the Box” proposal have suggested that the FCC ought to pursue a “no box” approach–that is, some kind of policy (or hands-off approach) that would let customers do away with the set-top box entirely, relying on apps instead, rather than introducing new competition in the set-top box market. The proposal put forward by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, AT&T, and others even calls itself “Ditch the Box.”
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The Federal Communication Commission’s proposal to “unlock the box” and enable people to access pay TV content on any device could save customers billions, by giving them easier access to cable and online video on smart, innovative devices.
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Zero-rating raises some pretty complicated issues both globally and domestically. For example, Public Knowledge has observed that T-Mobile’s “Binge On” program, which doesn’t count some video providers towards data usage caps, raises some competitive implications that should be carefully considered. Other zero-rating programs are more clearly anticompetitive. Comcast’s continued exemption of its own data traffic from metering fits into that category. Public Knowledge has had a complaint pending at the FCC since 2012 regarding Comcast’s zero-rating; this recent expansion of such behavior further illustrates the harms zero-rating can cause in some circumstances.
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Many people have been “cutting the cord”–cancelling their cable TV subscriptions–and watching more video online. Usually, however, their broadband provider is the same company that used to be their TV provider. Cord-cutters tend to use broadband more than non-cord-cutters, so large cable companies that want cord-cutters to start paying them more again have hit on a solution: just charge more for broadband.
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