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What the FCC's Net Neutrality Decision Means

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Getty Images

Today, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to regulate broadband companies (including wireless companies) in much the same way that landline telephone companies have been regulated for decades. (This is a regulatory scheme known as "Title II" that reclassifies broadband providers as "common carriers." For more on what that means, see our previous coverage or check out what the ACLU has to say.)

For proponents of Net Neutrality, this is a great victory. For deregulators (and broadband companies), this is just the beginning of a series of court challenges and Congressional action that will attempt to overturn (or weaken) the new regulations.

The Short Video Version

If you're not into reading the details, or what the various voters actually said, here's an overview of the issue from Consumer Reports:

Specifically, What Happened Today?

A five-member FCC committee held a vote on whether to implement a new policy to regulate broadband internet providers. The vote was 3-2, split along party lines, with Republicans Michael O'Rielly and Ajut Pai voting against the new policy.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler (who voted in favor of the new regulations) said, in part:

The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It is simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field. Think about it. The Internet has replaced the functions of the telephone and the post office. The Internet has redefined commerce, and as the outpouring from four million Americans has demonstrated, the Internet is the ultimate vehicle for free expression. The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules.

This proposal has been described by one opponent as "a secret plan to regulate the Internet." Nonsense. This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concepts: openness, expression, and an absence of gate keepers telling people what they can do, where they can go, and what they can think.

Commissioner Ajut Pai, one of the dissenting voters, said, "The Internet is not broken. There is no problem for the government to solve." Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, the other dissenting voter, prepared a written statement. He omitted the first two paragraphs of this statement when he spoke during the meeting:

Let me start by issuing apologies. First, I am just sick about what Chairman Wheeler was forced to go through during this process. It was disgraceful to have the Administration overtake the commission’s rulemaking process and dictate an outcome for pure political purposes. It is so disturbing to know that those efforts were about illegitimately pushing a larger political cause mostly unrelated to technology. This administration went so far beyond what has ever been attempted, and its inappropriate interference in the commission’s activities will forever change this institution.

Additionally, I am sorry to the staff members that were forced to prepare a half-baked, illogical, internally inconsistent, and indefensible document. For an institution that prides itself on quality of work and legal and technical expertise, this document is anything but. I guess that an artificial deadline to meet the radical protestors’ demands means that it is more likely that this item gets overturned by the courts because the work and thoughtful analysis needed to actually defend this completely flawed agenda is not included in the text.

Today, a majority of the commission attempts to usurp the authority of Congress by re-writing the Communications Act to suit its own “values” and political ends.

Clearly, there is a strong divide within the FCC about the core issue here.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on February 26, 2015. Photograph by Getty Images.

Does This Change My Broadband Service Today?

No. The full regulations haven't been published yet, and consumers should expect no change, which is kind of the point. Further, the FCC has said it will not seek to regulate the rates consumers pay for broadband, nor impose any new taxes or fees.

What Happens Next?

Long story short, there will be plenty of court challenges. AT&T has already talked about what it plans to do, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said, "We are going to be sued." (Meaning the broadband companies do not wish to be regulated this way, and will certainly sue the FCC in an attempt to stop it.) The issue of Net Neutrality now heads (back) to the courts, and it may take years for the legal framework to be fully settled.

It's also certain that Congress will get involved, with legislation that might accomplish some of the same goals but reduce the FCC's ability to oversee broadband providers. Stay tuned, folks. Meanwhile, the Internet Archive and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are holding a celebration tonight in San Francisco.

Putu Sayoga, Getty Images
Bali Is Suspending Mobile Web Service for Its Sacred Day of Silence
Putu Sayoga, Getty Images
Putu Sayoga, Getty Images

Nyepi, a Hindu holiday that celebrates the Saka new year, is a sacred tradition on the Indonesian island of Bali. It's a time for silence and mindful meditation, practices that might pose a challenge to a plugged-in generation of smartphone users. To ensure the day passes with as few distractions as possible, religious and civilian leaders in Bali have asked telecommunications companies to shut off their data for 24 hours, AP reports.

From 6 a.m. on Saturday, March 17 until 6 a.m. on Sunday, March 18, Bali residents will be unable to access online news, social media, or any other form of web content on their phones. “Let’s rest a day, free from the internet to feel the calm of the mind,” Gusti Ngurah Sudiana, head of the Indonesian Hinduism Society, said according to AP.

Shutting off mobile data for a full day may sound extreme, but it's just one way the island will respectfully observe the holiday. Throughout Nyepi, Balinese shops and the island's sole airport are closed, and television programs and radio broadcasts are paused. Officials first asked cell phone companies to suspend their data last year, but this is the first year they agreed to comply with the request. An exception will be made for hotels, hospitals, banks, and other vital public services.

Nyepi is followed by Ngembak Geni, a day that also encourages self-introspection. But unlike Nyepi, Ngembak Geni is a day when people are allowed to socialize, even if it is online.

[h/t AP]

Live Smarter
Find Out If Your Passwords Have Been Stolen With This Free Service

In the modern world, data breaches happen with startling regularity. They can happen to giant credit monitoring firms, social networks, or the fast food restaurant down the street. In late 2017, a security research firm found 1.4 billion stolen usernames and passwords floating around unencrypted on the Dark Web, giving even the most unsophisticated hackers a shot at your online accounts. In many cases, you may not realize that your account has been compromised.

As CNET reports, a security tool called Pwned Passwords can help you figure out with a simple search which of your passwords has already been leaked. Created by a regional director at Microsoft named Troy Hunt in August 2017, the free site is designed to make it as easy as possible to check the security of your online accounts. It's as simple as entering your password into the search bar. In February 2018, Hunt updated his original site to include passwords from more major breaches. The database now features half a billion passwords that have been leaked as part of hacks on sites like MySpace, LinkedIn, DropBox, and Gawker. Some are sourced from breaches you may not have even heard of, but which still contained your information.

"Data breaches are rampant and many people don't appreciate the scale or frequency with which they occur," Hunt writes on the site. When he analyzes the user credentials leaked after big hacks like the one on Adobe in 2013, he finds that he will keep seeing "same accounts exposed over and over again, often with the same passwords." And once that password is leaked once, that puts all the other accounts that you use that password for at risk, too.

A screenshot of the site asks 'have i been pwned?' Below, the word 'password' is typed into the search bar.
Pwned Password

So if you're one of those people who uses the same password for multiple accounts—we know, it's hard to remember a different password for every website you ever visit—now would be a good time to see whether that password has ever been part of a data breach. Pwned Password will tell you if your password has been revealed as part of any major data breaches, and which ones. (CNET advises against searching your current passwords, since revealing that info to third parties is never a good idea, but checking old passwords you no longer use is OK.)

I, for one, searched a standard password I've been using for a steady rotation of online accounts since high school, and found out it has been spotted 135 different times as part of data breaches. Oh boy. (Presumably, those might not all be related to my accounts, instead coming from other people out there in the world who base their passwords off tidbits from The Fairly OddParents, but who knows.)

If, like mine, your passwords show up on Pwned Passwords, you should update them as soon as possible. (Here are some good tips on coming up with secure ones. Maybe don't use "password.") This would also be a good time to get yourself a password manager, like LastPass or 1Password.

The latter service actually has a Pwned Password integration so that you can check each of the passwords stored in your 1Password with Pwned Password. If you use LastPass, the service's security checkup can also search for potential data breaches in your roster, but it looks for leaked usernames, not passwords.

[h/t CNET]


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