Liveblog: FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel @UMich

This is a liveblog taken on 17 September 2018. Apologies for any inaccuracies

Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner
Jack Bernard, Associate General Counsel, University of Michigan

Bernard: What is the FCC?

Rosenworcel: FCC oversees 1/6 of US economy.

Bernard: How does the FCC interact with the internet?

Rosenworcel: FCC authority lies with transmission: where there's a wire in the ground or a transmission in the air.

Bernard: Talked to campus community about NN. There is a wide range of views on what NN is. What is it?

Rosenworcel: Broadband providers have to treat traffic on their networks equally, so they do not discriminate based on source, destination, or content. You can go where you want and do what you want online, and your internet provider does not decide for you.

Bernard: What does equal mean?

Rosenworcel: Analogy to basic telephone network: you can call whoever you want. The telephone company can't tell you who to call or edit your conversation. Really talking about nondiscrimination.

Bernard: Different broadband providers provide different services and options. What are you really talking about?

Rosenworcel: Totally OK under net neutrality to choose how fast of a connection you pay for.

Bernard: How could the absence of NN allow broadband providers to undermine experience?

Rosenworcel: Since rollback of NN, broadband providers can block websites, throttle services, or censor content. Can approach entrepreneurs and charge them to access customers. Do they have technical capability? Yes: network management. Business incentive? Yes. When rights, capabilities, and incentives are aligned, behavior will emerge in the market.

Bernard: Broadband argues that internet was working fine. What is the need to pass regulation?

Rosenworcel: Competitive marketplaces are the best moderators of oversight. Broadband is not a competitive marketplace. You can't take your business elsewhere: there's nowhere else to go.

Bernard: Felt constrained by choices even with NN.

Rosenworcel: NN helps manage in absence of competition.

Bernard: What changed after rollback of NN?

Rosenworcel: NN says can't block, throttle, or censor. Rolled back over Rosenworcel's dissent.

Bernard: What was your experience as a dissenter?

Rosenworcel: People don't remember what you said, they remember how you said it. Have to make arguments in a principled way and repeat them again and again.

Bernard: How do you build collegiality?

Rosenworcel: Whatever disagreement we have is like a book on a shelf and we move onto the next volume. Always find something in common.

Bernard: Can you steel-man instead of straw man anti-NN position?

Rosenworcel: Want to give customers most options. Want to make sure there are financial incentives to support providers.

Bernard: We hear that NN is a barrier to investment and providing service.

Rosenworcel: We do have broadband challenges in rural US. Instead of having theoretical arguments about NN, would rather identify where the gaps in coverage are and plan how to fill them.

Bernard: Is it possible to advocate for industry incentives and NN?

Rosenworcel: Can do both at the same time. False choice to say it's one or the other.

Bernard: Can less than equitable service be better overall? Example: carpool lanes?

Rosenworcel: That assumes you have multiple lanes. We don't.

Bernard: If there was greater competition?

Rosenworcel: We could revisit.

Bernard: NN advocates argue that without NN there will be cartels causing content to be only avialable to certain providers. Is there evidence?

Rosenworcel: Yes, there is discussion that it's happening already. Even if conetent is only slowed down, people switch. That's an obstacle for entrepreneurship.

Bernard: Those in the room have internet access through academic network. Difficult to understand other perspectives.


Bernard: Americans now know the name of the FCC chair. What's that like?

Rosenworcel: Likes some anonymity, but it's good for the public. Collect pubic input. Have to figure out how to make issues accessible to allow a broader swath of Americans to participate.

Bernard: Did going against FCC cause a problem?

Rosenworcel: No one likes disagreement, but you have to stand up and do what's right.

Bernard: Pai said that California's proposal are flouting federal law.

Rosenworcel: The FCC is in a strange legal position regarding preemption. FCC argued they didn't have authority to regulate (Rosenworcel disagrees). But if FCC doesn't have authority to regulate, they don't have authority to preempt.

Bernard: What was Pai getting at? First amendment issue?

Rosenworcel: More about commerce clause.

Bernard: How would you summarize your stance?

Rosenworcel: You should be able to go where you want and do what you want without your provider choosing for you.

Bernard: Explain concerns over media consolidation?

Rosenworcel: Media has changed. There was a time when you got news from the morning newspaper and the evening news, and that was it. Modern news cycle is exhausting and stresses media company resources. Media companies have responded with consolidation. Rosenworcel understands, but favors competition. We have less local news now.

Bernard: Concern is that if too many outlets are owned by the same company there isn't enough diversity?

Rosenworcel: There used to be laws preventing, for example, one company from owning a radio station and a newspaper. Not any more. How do you maintain diverse viewpoints?

Bernard: What are the next steps? How should government step in?

Rosenworcel: National laws prevent companies from owning over a certain percentage of broadcast outlets. Most Americans still get their local news through TV and radio.

Bernard: Over the last year, the President has suggested revoking NBC's license. Purportedly this is a result of criticism of the administration. How realistic is that?

Rosenworcel: Trying to be diplomatic. A year ago, saw President's tweet, decided that so much is wrong with it, and tweeted a reply. The reply linked to the FCC manual on broadcast licensing. It's a story about what's to come: antagonism towards the news. Rosenworcel finds it troubling. Politicians criticising news is not new: Alien and Sedition act, Kennedy described the media as his enemy. What worries Rosenworcel is when the government uses its power to stop the media from reporting on abuses of that power.

Bernard: In the 2016 election, about 17% of people under 30 voted. People feel disenfranchised, not part of "we the people."

Rosenworcel: Doesn't have time for cynicism. Public servants have to be impatient optimists. It has in many ways never been easier to build a movement. Thinks as citizens, we need to use it. Nothing stopping everyone here from having a clear voice in Washington.

Audience Questions

Q: Last mile internet issue. 30 million Americans without reliable high-speed internet. What needs to be done to connect these people? Would gap exist if internet was treated more like a utility?

A: FCC estimates 24m without broadband, mostly rural. One thing we should do nationally, is map where broadband is and is not. We need to make it a citizen science project, crowdsource how many bars we have.

Q: How does NN relate to privacy?

A: FCC's ability to regulate privacy online was taken away. Hopes to align privacy policy across sectors of the economy (website, broadband, etc.)

Q: Do connected devices change discussion around connected vehicles? When will FCC decide between 5G and dedicated short range communication service (DSRC)?

A: Speed of change has been unimaginable and exciting. 5G was from 1999, which is now "old." NTSB expects it will take years to be able to deploy DSRC. Need to figure out what we can do in the meantime with what we have.

Bernard: Should we be narrowing the spectrum of any industry?

A: Spectrum is zoning in the sky. Certain frequencies were for different purposes. Now auctioned off for flexible use. Now, everyone wants some. Experimenting with milimeter band technology. Really need to get more creative with sharing. We can't expand the physics, but we can be more efficient with exisitng spectrum. Public safety uses have to be primary.

Bernard: Would that mean throttling?

A: Different services require different expectations.

Q: What's the future of municipal broadband?

A: In about half the states in the US, the state has prohibited it. Rosenworcel finds this rerettable. People are being left behind and need as many solutions as they can get.

Q: Based on the infrastructure analogy, what makes a toll to pay for cybersecurity different from a road toll? Shouldn't providers be able to take a cut of income from pornographic websites?

A: Control needs to be in the hands of the customers.

Bernard: We already don't have a lot of control. Will anything really change without NN?

A: Universities are deploying apps to try to detect altered internet traffic. Important to measure.

Bernard: Claims there's little evidence companies will tamper with traffic.

A: Some enforcement shifted to FTC. They address harm after it occurs in court. Not accessible to small entrepreneurs.

Q: Does FCC regulate fake news? Should internet service providers be able to?

A: FCC? No. Town square is largely digital. A lot of authority offered to online platforms. Granting similar authority to service providers would compound the problem.

Q (twitter): How does NN relate to corporate mergers?

A: Incentive for service providers to privilege content owned by the same company.

Q: Could net neutrality be offered for a fee?

A: Possible after rollback of NN regulations.

Q: What are some ways to encourage broadband competition?

A: We need to identify every possible way. Some are mundane but consequential. "Dig once" policies allow multiple companies to lay fiber when a road is torn up for only 1% additional cost to construction costs. Changes in policy and reducing bureaucracy to access utility poles. Biggest ways occur with technology change.

Q: How closely does the FCC work with network engineers?

A: Have an office. It's not big enough. Rosenworcel advocated for an engineering honors program to bring in young engineers from top universities. Need more onramps. Need more digital natives serving in government, who see opportunites in new technology.

Q: Is the internet a human right?

A: You do not have a fair shot at prosperity in the 21st century if you do not have access to the internet. Figuring out how to get more people connected at a high speed is crucial to civic future of the country.

Data Sculpture: Media Perspective

For those of us who work with data, we get used to visualizing in our mind and develop an intuition for it. For everyone else, data visualization usually takes the form of a diagram on a small, two-dimensional screen. Standard data plots can take an exciting idea and turn it into something boring, or even worse, drudge up memories of panicked high school math exams. This experimental data sculpture attempts to draw the viewer into the visualization and connect them with the data on an intuitive, physical level. The sculpture shows the amount of coverage the U.S. mainstream media gave to Net Neutrality between January 2014 and April 2015, while the FCC was creating revised Net Neutrality rules. Each of the 33 panes of clear acrylic represents a two-week time slice, with the size of an etched circle corresponding to the amount of coverage. The top row shows total Net Neutrality coverage, with the other three rows representing coverage of "innovation," "discrimination," and "regulation," in reference to Net Neutrality.

Attention peaks four times: when the FCC announces its proposal, at the end of the public comment period, after President Obama announces support for reclassifying broadband, and finally when the FCC releases its new regulations. Coverage is notably low during the public comment period, the primary time individual citizens had a chance to influence the policy. The visualization also shows that "discrimination," language used in earlier technical and legal discussion of Net Neutrality disappeared from mainstream media coverage, giving way to the more idealogical and economic terms "innovation" and "regulation." The viewer can explore these data by walking around the sculpture, standing back, or standing close, making it easy to engage without a digital interface or specialized knowledge.

Cross-posted to MIT Center for Civic Media

MIT Media Lab on Net Neutrality

When the FCC released it's 2014 Open Internet proposal, the MIT Media Lab formed a working group to make an official statement. I was one of the contributors, and I think we produced an insightful document on the importance of Net Neutrality.

This document is the response of members of the MIT Media Lab to NPRM 14-28, “In the Matter of Promoting the Open Internet.” We recognize that the Internet has become the platform for a great many innovations that have changed the face of society and industry. It has provided opportunity for people throughout the world to gain from unfettered access to information and, most important, to create a universal platform upon which advances in computing can propagate and impact the well-being of people everywhere. We therefore feel it is imperative to secure a future where the Internet remains open, without the constraints or restrictions that benefit some economic entities at the expense of the population at large, both in the United States and throughout the world...

Read the full comment.