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Opinion: An Internet open to all Americans

By Anna-Maria Kovacs, Ph.D., CFA   |   Feb. 26, 2015 at 11:45 AM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 (UPI) -- An open Internet is a goal for all Americans, but it must be achieved via means that don't favor the most technophile one percent of Americans at the expense of the rest. The order the Federal Communications Commission is contemplating could do exactly that.

Thursday, the FCC will vote to approve its open-Internet Order based on Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Both Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Ajit Pai have issued press releases and fact sheets detailing the draft order that is circulating pending the vote. It is an order that pro-regulation activists and their lawyers will love, but for vulnerable consumers and small businesses, it could be painful.

For one thing, according to Pai, the draft order circulated on February 5th favors unlimited all-you-can-eat data plans and discourages usage-based pricing as well as sponsored-data plans. Were the final order to take that approach, low-priced plans that provide an entry point for the poor would vanish. Consumers who make less use of the Internet would be forced to subsidize those who use it heavily. Sandvine's midyear 2014 data showed that the top one percent of Internet users consume nearly twice as much traffic in total as the bottom fifty percent of users consume in total. Pew Research, Nielsen and others have shown that it is elders and the poor who are least apt to use the Internet. They should not be forced to subsidize the one percent.

But the harm to consumers would not necessarily be limited to pricing. In 2005, the Supreme Court affirmed the FCC's prior decision that broadband Internet access (BIA), as currently offered, is an information service that is not subject to Title II of the Communications Act. If the FCC decides to improve its chances of victory by forcing the BIA providers to radically change the service they offer to make it fit Title II's requirements, the service would become much more difficult for non-geeks to use. Specifically, BIA providers would have to sever the transmission from the other services with which it is currently integrated.

One real-world implication of such a legal maneuver would be that vulnerable consumers who already find Internet access confusing might suddenly find themselves responsible for their own DNS-lookup (website address) and cybersecurity, as well as searching for new sources of email, web-browsing, and other functions currently integrated for them by their BIAs. Yes, all these are available from various sources on the web as numerous Title II fans pointed out in the FCC's docket. But perhaps before filing those comments they should have asked their grandparents whether they want to take on the job of vetting those sources for security and reliability. One thing the FCC can count on if it implements such unbundling of services is the fury of millions of seniors and other vulnerable consumers who would suddenly find their Internet access more expensive, more difficult, and less secure.

The Chairman's fact sheet also indicates that, to further improve its prospects in court, the FCC will force BIA providers to offer a new service to edge providers that the FCC will also declare to be a telecommunications service. The service appears to consist of the completion of the edge provider's response to a query from an end user. For example, a BIA subscriber might request a movie from a website. The website's server sends the movie, and the BIA delivers it to the end user. The delivery of that response from the website would be considered a service offered by the BIA to the website, separate from the BIA's service to its own subscriber. Currently, the end-user's payment to the BIA covers the cost for both the end user and responding website, but the new legal approach is likely to change that.

Any telecommunications service must, according to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, be offered for a fee. Since the response of the website is being unbundled from the query by the end user, the FCC can't expect to be sustained in court if it tries to argue that end users are paying for both services. Thus, the FCC would have to insist on payment by website owners for the service they receive from any of thousands of BIAs with whom they have no established relationship. The payment would, of course, create a new cost for website owners like Senator Leahy's favorite, the Vermont Country Store, and even smaller businesses, a new cost that would provide them with no new benefit whatsoever.

Before the FCC votes order, its commissioners must take the time to think about the real-world consequences of the legal strategies they pursue. While the pro-regulatory activists have been the vocal participants in this proceeding, they are not the only ones who will be affected by it. Driving vulnerable Americans off the Internet and small businesses out of business is not a legacy any of the FCC's commissioners would welcome. The open Internet must serve all Americans.
Anna-Maria Kovacs is a Visiting Senior Policy Scholar at Georgetown University's Center for Business and Public Policy. She has covered the communications industry for more than three decades as a financial analyst and consultant.

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.

Opinion: Bill O'Reilly's very own "Scoop"

By Claude Salhani   |   Feb. 23, 2015 at 6:31 AM
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Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly is under fire for claiming to have been, well, "under fire," or rather, as he put it, "in a war zone," during the Falklands war, when in reality no independent reporters made it to the islands.

Neither Scoop's fictional novel war correspondent William Boot, nor William (Bill) O'Reilly of Fox News, will be first nor the last correspondents to falsely claim to have seen "combat action" when in fact they were many miles away.

In more than a dozen conflicts this correspondent has covered there have always been a few reporters who were reluctant to go up to the front lines, saying they needed to get an overall picture of the situation. In reality they were too afraid of the risks involved in going all the way to the front lines. And often just as afraid of telling their editors that they were just not cut out for this line of work.

There is nothing to be ashamed of in having fears while facing the perils of war. In fact most sane people don't want to go to war. One has to be a little bit deranged to volunteer to go into a war zone. Most of us who have been in a combat zone tell ourselves and others the reason we do this is because we want to show the world the insanity of war or some other noble excuse. And at times we may even believe it ourselves.

The plain truth is that war is addicting. There is this great adrenaline rush, this feeling of having tempted or cheated death. There is a strong sense of camaraderie that develops with fellow correspondents. There is the glory of being able to say "I have been to hell," and of writing compelling stories and of making some amazing images that cannot be found elsewhere. There is a sense of empowerment is being able to write about such life and death issues that makes everything else seem tame by comparison.

The power of the media is not to be underestimated when it comes to covering conflicts. It was media after all -- television in particular -- that contributed in a large part in putting an end to the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War.

Images on the Six o'clock news showing U.S. casualties in Vietnam day after day more than anything else put an end to the conflict in Southeast Asia, at least as far as U.S. involvement was concerned.

Vietnam was the last conflict involving the U.S. military where the media had unlimited access. Any journalist arriving in Saigon would check in with the military media bureau, would be issued press credentials and with those, would hop onto any U.S. military transport, from a Jeep to a helicopter and move around the country and the war zone at will, filming, photographing and interviewing whomever they wanted.

This total freedom of the press proved very costly for the U.S. military, some say it cost them the war. But it was the last time the media would be given such free range in a war zone.

For the press covering the U.S. military in combat it went from one extreme to the other; from Vietnam to Desert Storm, where the military tried to limit and funnel all media access through the JPAB (Joint Public Affairs Bureau).

The war in the Falklands was one where the media was completely controlled by the military. Both British and Argentines kept a very tight lid on what was going on around the islands. The remoteness of the combat area helped the military control what information went out and the only way in which the media could access the zone was aboard vessels of the Royal Navy.

Having learned their lesson in Vietnam, the U.S. military under President George Bush (the elder) deployed U.S. troops to liberate Kuwait after it was occupied by Iraq, then under Saddam Hussein. The U.S. military introduced a pool system and demanded that any journalist who wanted to be accredited would have to sign an agreement abiding by a number of rules.

Covering the Falklands war from the Argentine capital Buenos Aires, a distance of some 1,190 miles, William O'Reilly's combat experience may well resemble that of William Boot in covering his war in "Ishmaelia," the fictitious country in Scoop. Neither was a war zone.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor with Trend News Agency, and former war correspondent and a contributing editor to UPI.

© 2015 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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