Text Of FCC’s Proposed Rules: ‘Protecting And Promoting The Open Internet’

The FCC has a long document about its efforts to change the way Internet providers can handle traffic. I’ll have a post later about how these rules will affect users, but for now I’ve chopped out the most relevant portion of it and placed it here in a more reader-friendly format.

Proposed Rules

Part 8 of Title 47 of the Code of Federal Regulations is amended as follows:

No Blocking.
No Commercially Unreasonable Practices.
Other Laws and Considerations.
8.11 Definitions.
AUTHORITY: 47 U.S.C. §§ 151, 152, 154(i)-(j), 303, 316, 1302

§ 8.1

The purpose of this Part is to protect and promote the Internet as an open platform enabling consumer choice, freedom of expression, end-user control, competition, and the freedom to innovate without permission, and thereby to encourage the deployment of advanced telecommunications capability and remove barriers to infrastructure investment.

§ 8.3

(a) A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose
accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services, in a manner tailored

(i) for end users to make informed choices regarding use of such services,
(ii) for edge providers to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings, and
(iii) for the Commission and members of the public to understand how such person complies with the requirements described in sections 8.5 and 8.7 of this chapter.

(b) In making the disclosures required by this section, a person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall include meaningful information regarding the source, timing, speed, packet loss, and duration of congestion.

(c) In making the disclosures required by this section, a person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service shall publicly disclose in a timely manner to end users, edge providers, and the Commission when they make changes to their network practices as well as any instances of blocking, throttling, and pay-for-priority arrangements, or the parameters of default or “best effort” service as distinct from any priority service.

§ 8.5
No Blocking.

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management.

A person engaged in the provision of mobile broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management; nor shall such person block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services, subject to reasonable network management.

§ 8.7
No Commercially Unreasonable Practices.

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not engage in commercially unreasonable practices. Reasonable network management shall not constitute a commercially unreasonable practice.

§ 8.9
Other Laws and Considerations.

Nothing in this part supersedes any obligation or authorization a provider of broadband Internet access service may have to address the needs of emergency communications or law enforcement, public safety, or national security authorities, consistent with or as permitted by applicable law, or limits the provider’s ability to do so.

Nothing in this part prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity.

§ 8.11

(a) Block. The failure of a broadband Internet access service to provide an edge provider with a
minimum level of access that is sufficiently robust, fast, and dynamic for effective use by end users and edge providers.

(b) Broadband Internet access service. A mass-market retail service by wire or radio that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all Internet endpoints, including any capabilities that are incidental to and enable the operation of the communications service, but excluding dial-up Internet access service. This term also encompasses any service that the Commission finds to be providing a functional equivalent of the service described in the previous sentence, or that is used to evade the protections set forth in this Part.

(c) Edge Provider. Any individual or entity that provides any content, application, or service over the Internet, and any individual or entity that provides a device used for accessing any content, application, or service over the Internet.

(d) End User. Any individual or entity that uses a broadband Internet access service.

(e) Fixed broadband Internet access service. A broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily at fixed endpoints using stationary equipment. Fixed broadband Internet access service includes fixed wireless services (including fixed unlicensed wireless services), and fixed satellite services.

(f) Mobile broadband Internet access service. A broadband Internet access service that serves end users primarily using mobile stations.

(g) Reasonable network management. A network management practice is reasonable if it is appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service.

Facebook Algorithm Change Hurting News Sites’ Organic Reach

Monday afternoon brought an unpleasant surprise to the CBS Sacramento Facebook page. News stories that were posted to the Facebook page weren’t gaining any traction.

We’ve dipped our toes into advertising on Facebook, but for the most part we are dependent on Organic Reach—basically how a post would show up in people’s News Feeds based on shares, likes and comments.

At one point on Monday, our numbers dropped significantly. I’m not going to share exact numbers, but percentages instead. Posts made during that time had a total reach approximately 10 to 25 percent of what similar posts were getting earlier in the day.

Again, that’s not a 10 to 25 percent drop, that’s 10 to 25 percent, period.

Google is one of our top referrers for our traffic, but Facebook also plays a significant role in how much traffic our site gets. Losing 75 to 90 percent of our reach in one day is a severe gut check in terms of the number of people coming to our site.

After some research, I came across a post from Facebook’s newsroom ironically titled “News Feed FYI: Helping You Find More News to Talk About.” It explained how Facebook was going to make things more relevant and offer more high-quality content.

People use Facebook to share and connect, including staying current on the latest news, whether it’s about their favorite celebrity or what’s happening in the world. We’ve noticed that people enjoy seeing articles on Facebook, and so we’re now paying closer attention to what makes for high quality content, and how often articles are clicked on from News Feed on mobile. What this means is that you may start to notice links to articles a little more often (particularly on mobile).

This post sounds like fantastically good news for our Facebook page. We are dedicated to bringing the latest news to the region, from Sacramento to Stockton to Vacaville to the Sierra. We have a strict policy that posts on our Facebook page should have meaning and relate to what we’ve posted on our site. No memes, no Reddit reposts, just the news.

And that’s something Facebook is interested in as well, quoting the post:

Why are we doing this? Our surveys show that on average people prefer links to high quality articles about current events, their favorite sports team or shared interests, to the latest meme. Starting soon, we’ll be doing a better job of distinguishing between a high quality article on a website versus a meme photo hosted somewhere other than Facebook when people click on those stories on mobile. This means that high quality articles you or others read may show up a bit more prominently in your News Feed, and meme photos may show up a bit less prominently.

Again, this should be fantastic news for our Facebook page. What we’re providing is exactly the kind of content they want to promote.

And CBS Sacramento is not alone. I reached out on Twitter to see if anyone else had been affected. Sacramento Bee Interactivity Editor Nathaniel Miller replied, saying he was seeing “historically low” organic reach numbers.

He also pointed out an interesting fact: The Bee’s Facebook page had some of its best engagement last week when the change in the algorithm took place. A check back at our posts in the previous week show the same trend, with some posts seeing 200-300 percent higher reach than average.

Given the complexities involved in adjusting Facebook algorithms, things like this are bound to happen from time to time. It would appear their change promoted news stories a little too heavily last week. A change was made Monday afternoon that dialed that back, but to a degree that caused the opposite of what Facebook originally intended.

And it appears whatever bit got flipped the wrong way is causing a bizarre reach delay. Earlier I mentioned Monday’s posts getting 10 to 25 percent of their normal traffic. A check of those same stories show the reach improving 24 hours later to about 60-75 percent of normal—still not back to normal, but it’s a start.

The problem is, if this latest change to Facebook’s algorithm is focused on current events and relevant news stories, it’s doing a terrible job. Stories posted to our News Feed on Tuesday are still garnering the anemic numbers as stories posted on Monday. While seeing the bump in reach throughout the day is encouraging, there’s a reason they’re called “current events.” Plopping them into someone’s feed 24 hours later strips the immediacy and relevance of the story, leaving readers and viewers with stale news about events one could hardly call “current.”

This also is a critical reminder for website managers not to rely on one source for their traffic. We’ve been lucky that through solid SEO practices and other channels for sharing stories, our website traffic hasn’t dropped as much as our Facebook traffic.

Here’s hoping this issue is remedied quickly. I’d have sent all this to Facebook in an email, but frankly their customer support options are terrible. A company designed around reaching out and connecting should have a better way for customers to connect to them.

Cable and Internet bundling: It’s Comcastic!

Comcast  announced it believes it’s stemming the tide in cable-cutters today, saying it lost its fewest customers in the past 5 years. In the company’s mind, it’s clearly winning the battle against people ditching its cable service.

What Comcast fails to mention though, is that through a combination of bundling and its stranglehold on the market, it’s been able to fudge its numbers.

Take for instance my own Internet plan. The plan I’m on offers me Internet access, as well as a small selection of cable channels. While I was interested solely in Internet, a Comcast rep offered me a better deal if I added that small cable selection. That group of channels is pretty much what I’d get with an OTA antenna, along with a bunch of public-access channels and some of Comcast’s On-Demand selection.

The Comcast story jogged my memory, and I remembered it was almost the end of the 6-month period. I called up Comcast today to try and get rid of that pesky cable since it wasn’t worth the price increase.

Thanks to the deal, what I would pay for just the Internet connection alone would almost double without cable. That $40 a month for my Internet/cable would shoot up to almost $75. While I was discussing options for downgrading my connection, I noticed the Comcast terms mentioned a price range that started at $52.95, depending on certain factors.

Those factors? If I kept my cable subscription, I would be paying roughly $60 for the combo of cable and Internet.

That’s right, I would get the two services for less than the one service. How on Earth could I possibly pass up that kind of deal?

This is the kind of logic that’s allowed to exist in Comcast’s world. It and other cable providers are a government-protected monopoly. This means it’s free from the constraints AT&T and other providers who rely on phone lines have—that silly thing called allowing competitors to access transmission lines.

I’m currently weighing my options. As a result of its monopoly, Comcast is really the only option for a high-speed provider. The best I can do outside of them is AT&T’s 3-megabit connection. That pales in comparison to the 10-times as fast connection I’m getting now.

Because of the lack of options, Comcast can get away with fudging its numbers by offering ridiculous prices and claim it’s not losing any customers to its shareholders. But I wonder how many other customers out there are like me and only have the service because it’s the only thing keeping their bills from skyrocketing.

Thanks for nothing AT&T

July 11, 2008. The date this tangled web of fun with AT&T begins.

After waiting a few hours outside of an AT&T store, I finally got my hands on an iPhone 3G. I had purposely avoided the first one of a few reasons including the whole “college to a real job” transition and contract hullabaloo. But the day came when I moved from my AT&T feature phone to the brave new world of smartphones.

A few important things about signing up for a data plan in the day of the iPhone 3G:

1) There could be only one: AT&T’s exclusivity agreement with Apple was alive and well. This guaranteed the iPhone wasn’t going on anyone else’s network anytime soon.

2) All or nothing: The contract at the time of the initial iPhone’s release, and for subsequent releases until 2010, required customers sign up for an unlimited data contract. There wasn’t a choice of a few megabytes here or a few gigabytes there. It was all or nothing.

While that $30 plan would practically double my monthly bill, I was under the belief that at least I’d have unlimited access to my data as long as I was an AT&T customer.

Nearly 4 years later, AT&T has proven me wrong.

What I thought was an unlimited data plan, a few reps have explained to me, was actually a “well not really unlimited” data plan. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In August of 2011, AT&T announced they couldn’t possibly keep up with the amount of data usage by smartphone users, so it was going to start throttling the top 5 percent of users. These people were looked upon as the devils of data usage, who would destroy a network from their unhealthy amounts of streaming as they gobbled up gigabytes upon gigabytes of data. Clearly there was no way an average customer could possibly be ensnared in that web.

At the same time, AT&T was also pursuing a deal to acquire T-Mobile and its spectrum. This will be important later.

October, the announced time for the grand data hog slaughter, came and went with little fanfare. It wasn’t until November when AT&T sent me a lovely little notice about halfway through the month:

AT&T Free Msg: Your data usage this month is in the top 5% of users. Use Wi-Fi to help avoid reduced speeds in future bill cycles.

I didn’t think much of it since my billing cycle was about to end in a week. But that Nov. 17 message made me reset my data count on my iPhone, just in case. And it turned out to be the best thing I could have done.

Thanksgiving week brought a surprise: After heavy pressure from the government against the proposed merger, AT&T pulled its bid for T-Mobile.

The morning of Dec. 8 greeted me with a pair of texts before the sun came up. The same benign reminder of my data usage, then the hammer. My data had been throttled.

For those of you who haven’t had the joy of having your data throttled, imagine you’re able to cruise the Internet with speeds around 3 Gbps—roughly the same as a mid-level DSL account. Now let’s slam the brakes on that to dial-up levels. This amazing device that’s supposed to let me surf the web and watch video now chokes on any Web page with an image on it.

Obviously, this infuriated me. I wanted to find out how on earth did I use so much data that AT&T felt the need to throttle me. Remembering I reset the data counter on my phone, I checked the numbers: Between 6-7 GB of combined upload and download traffic since a week before the billing cycle began. I’d used more data than that in the months before and hadn’t received a notice.

I was reminded on Reddit that AT&T had its own tool I could check on my phone. That post is probably one that AT&T will wish never happened. That was when I learned AT&T screwed up badly. Instead of the data I saw I had used on my phone, AT&T’s listing said I used more than 8 GB and was actually closing in on 9.

Time to call AT&T.

It took me four calls, one of which I was hung up on to finally get someone who said they’d investigate it. During one of those calls, an AT&T rep “corrected” me and told me no other cell providers are providing unlimited data for the iPhone. When I told him Sprint did he said they didn’t about four times before finally admitting he hadn’t seen any commercials about it in awhile. I barely watch TV and had just seen one a day or two earlier.

At this point I was halfway through my billing cycle. The investigation would take about a week. I got a call back a few days after the investigation was supposed to be complete, but they ended up kicking the can down the road saying “Well we have to wait for the final numbers to come out.” Eventually, at the end of the month, they credited me $25 for the data, which was slightly satisfying, but still disappointing. Oh and they still had no explanation for the missing data.

Fast-forward to this week when after not even 2 GB of data use this time, AT&T dropped the hammer on me. Amazing how the “top 5 percent” suddenly dropped to 2 GB.

I was able to peel out some more useful data from them this time. I ended up talking with a “manager” who was part of a pool of “managers” with no supervisor above them. Basically his job was to get me to be quiet and accept the fact my data wasn’t coming back to full speed until the end of the cycle.

He explained to me, for starters, that AT&T bases its data use on your billing area. If you happen to be on a family plan in a major city, but your billing area is in a rural area, you’re plopped into the rural zone. He said that everything has to magically be routed through the hub in the billing area before it gets to me. This is extremely important. Rural areas would obviously have a lower instance of data usage than urban areas. He pegged the “average” at around 1 GB for rural areas and 2 GB or so for urban areas. Who knows when he was drawing this data from (i.e. pre or post throttling)?

The general impression he gave was that AT&T was being hit hard by the lack-of-spectrum bug.

But even after I got off the phone with him and after numerous attempts to call and chat with AT&T customer support, there’s still one thing that bugs me.

See, a couple of weeks before my latest throttling, AT&T announced it was being benevolent and expanding its tiered data coverage plans. Now, for the same price as I’m paying for my unlimited plan, AT&T is offering a 3 GB plan with $10 penalties for every GB above that number.  I’m being capped at 2 GB because the network can’t handle it, yet AT&T is able to offer a plan with 50 percent more data than my “unlimited” plan.

On the one hand, you’d think “Oh AT&T is throttling its network because they can’t handle the load.” Yet, it’s offering a larger plan for the same price.

Currently, the only thing keeping me from jumping ship to Sprint—which still has an unlimited plan, despite what an AT&T rep might tell you— is a $135 early-cancellation penalty. Not even the specter of a new iPhone on the horizon would keep me from waiting to make the switch.

Nearly 4 years ago, AT&T signed up as many customers as it could to an unlimited data plan. There was no option to sign up for a smaller plan. It was all or nothing. Now, with a failed merger under its belt, AT&T has decided to take that option back by limiting access to the same features it promotes in its advertisements: Video, photos, Web.

If you’ve faced the same difficulties with AT&T, there is a modicum of hope. You can filed a quick complaint with the FCC about AT&T’s network practices. The form can be found here and can be finished online in 5-10 minutes.

It’s time to hold AT&T accountable for what it’s done.