TF's Latest

The FTC takes aim at Amazon, the Net Neutrality debate rages on, and Congress gets closer to finally protecting Americans’ privacy from warrantless snooping.

FTC Reform

The FTC is stepping up enforcement against tech companies. Check out the highlights from our 7/31 event to find out what this means for consumers.

Net Neutrality

The FCC received over a million comments on the NPRM regarding Net Neutrality. We filed the longest, most substantive comments on the way out of this intractable debate.

We’ve just launched, where you can petition the FCC and learn about the innovation-snuffing consequences of using Title II to regulate the Internet like a 1930’s public utility. Visit, read, and send FCC Chairman Wheeler an email today! 

We’ve just launched, where you can petition the FCC and learn about the innovation-snuffing consequences of using Title II to regulate the Internet like a 1930’s public utility. Visit, read, and send FCC Chairman Wheeler an email today! 

The FCC Takes on the Spectrum Crunch: Tom Struble in Comm Daily

The demand for wireless broadband is outpacing the government’s ability to reallocate or repurpose spectrum for private sector use. This has led to a “spectrum crunch,” and policymakers are starting to take notice. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler requested public feedback on 2012 plans to address this scarcity by allowing wireless carriers to operate a Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the 3.5 GHz band alongside the federal incumbents. Since the band is currently used by federal agencies for radar and other government functions, the prospect of sharing it with the private sector poses critical concerns for investors.

The government would maintain large “exclusion zones” (see map above) where private users would be prohibited from using the band, lest they interfere with government activities and pose a threat to national security. And the prospect of only short-term licenses for wireless carriers to use the spectrum creates uncertainty, which may discourage investment. TF’s Tom Struble discussed these concerns in Comm Daily:

Tom Struble, legal fellow at TechFreedom, who worked on the issue as a Wireless Bureau staffer, said many questions remain about the CBRS proposal. The large size of exclusion zones “would be a huge problem for carriers,” which would “severely limit” the potential deployment of small cells and the buildout of heterogeneous networks (HetNets) providers need to increase the carrying capacity of their networks, Struble said. Proposed license terms are only one year, though they can be extended, versus 10 years for more typical licenses, he noted. “Carriers are worried that they may invest a lot of money building out a small cell network only to lose their licenses in a few years and have to eat all of their investment costs,” Struble said. “Essentially, they want more long-term certainty before they’re willing to invest millions/billions in building out their HetNets.”

Comcast-TWC Merger Would Expand Broadband, Benefit the Underserved

Today, TechFreedom filed comments on the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. TechFreedom’s filing highlights how the merger would benefit consumers by promoting faster broadband, more affordable service for underserved communities, and Comcast’s budding alternative wireless network.

The merger would benefit consumers.
“This deal will help promote faster broadband for all subscribers of the combined company while helping to bridge the digital divide with affordable offerings for the underserved,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. “More investment in broadband means faster speeds for subscribers, and Comcast’s management has simply done a better job of investing in the future than has Time Warner Cable’s. Not only has Comcast invested more in faster speeds, it has also expanded its $10/month Internet Essentials program for low-income families, a program that Comcast will extend to TWC customers if the merger is approved.” Since the Internet Essentials program began in 2011 over 300,000 families have signed up.

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Preemption is Double-Edged Sword, warns Pai Chief of Staff

If the FCC can preempt state laws that restrict cities from spending taxpayer dollars building government-owned broadband networks, it can use the same power to ban “muni broadband,” too.

Thus warned Matthew Berry, chief of staff for Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, in a speech before state lawmakers this morning. Berry, a former FCC General Counsel, urged the Commission to reject preemption petitions filed last month by two cities. The petitions  relied on Section 706, which the Commission has also claimed as a basis for regulating net neutrality. Berry said: “Section 706 does not come close to containing the necessary clear statement that Congress intended to authorize the FCC to preempt state restrictions on municipal broadband projects.”

But, Berry continued, if Section 706 were an adequate basis for preemption, it would be a double-edged sword:

If the history of American politics teaches us anything, it is that one political party will not remain in power for perpetuity. At some point, to quote Sam Cooke, “a change is gonna come.”  And that change could come a little more than two years from now.  So those who are potential supporters of the current FCC interpreting Section 706 to give the Commission the authority to preempt state laws about municipal broadband should think long and hard about what a future FCC might do with that power.  

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Wheeler Stonewalls Congress on Muni Broadband Preemption

Can the FCC preempt state laws restricting taxpayer-funded municipal broadband without violating the Constitution? In June, sixty House Republicans posed this very question to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. Last week, Wheeler responded — but essentially refused to answer the question. He concluded a three page letter with this insightful legal analysis: “When state laws come into direct conflict with critically important federal law and policy, it is a long-standing principle of Constitutional law that state laws can be subject to federal preemption in appropriate cases.”

This is essentially like asking a waiter, “What’s the soup du jour?,” and the waiter answers “It’s the soup of the day.” Obviously, you want to know which soup it is. Just as obviously, those Congressmen wanted to know why Wheeler thought that muni broadband is  one of those “appropriate cases.”

It should also be obvious to the Chairman that playing “Twenty Questions” with lawmakers — who, in theory, are his bosses — isn’t a good way to build bridges on Capitol Hill.  This is especially true  since Wheeler kicked up a political firestorm by proposing to re-open the key definitional foundations that have governed the Internet since  the last time Congress overhauled telecom law in 1996.

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A Bold Proposal: Congress Must Establish a Commission to Audit America’s Privacy Laws

TechFreedom and ICLE File Joint Comments on the NTIA’s Inquiry into Big Data

Yesterday, TechFreedom and the International Center for Law & Economics (ICLE) filed joint comments with the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), urging the Obama Administration to call on Congress to establish a temporary Privacy Law Modernization Commission modeled on the Antitrust Modernization Commission created in 2002. The comments respond to the NTIA’s inquiry into how the White House’s 2012 Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights could be implemented in legislation without jeopardizing the consumer benefits of Big Data.

“Over a year ago, the White House seemed on the verge of announcing new, legislative restrictions on how private companies use consumer data,” said TechFreedom President Berin Szoka. “Just then, after years of hand-wringing by a few activists over personalized marketing, Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the far greater problem: massive, covert surveillance of American citizens by their government. The Administration has spent the last year struggling to repair its credibility. Now it’s trying to focus the conversation back on the private sector with the ominous label of ‘Big Data.’”

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Highlights from our Luncheon on the FTC’s Use of Economics

First Apple, Now Amazon: Where is the FTC Heading on Digital Consumer Protection?

TechFreedom and the International Center for Law and Economics (ICLE) hosted a lunch and panel discussion on Thursday, July 31 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company to discuss the important issues surrounding the FTC’s enforcement actions against tech companies.

FTC Commissioner Joshua Wright presented a keynote address explaining his unprecedented dissent in Apple and his approach to applying economics in consumer protection cases generally. The FTC didn’t conduct a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of Apple’s allegedly unfair in-app purchasing design, Wright told the packed house.

Apple’s product design choices are the result of “considerable investment and innovation,” and provide “substantial benefits for consumers who do not want to experience excessive disclosures or by having to enter passwords every time they make a purchase,” Wright said. Under the “unfairness standard,” the FTC bears the burden of showing that the harms from Apple’s choices outweigh the benefits, he said:  “The Commission offered no such evidence,” but rather “substituted its own judgment for a private firm’s decisions as to how to design its product.”

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TF’s Latest: FTC reform event Thursday, Net Neutrality, USA Freedom Act, and more

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for tech policy: The FCC received over a million comments on its proposed net neutrality regulations, the Senate unveiled its version of the USA Freedom Act, and the FTC is suing Amazon over the design of its app store.

#FTCReform in the spotlight as the FTC takes aim at Amazon

The Federal Trade Commission’s recent enforcement actions against Amazon and Apple raise important questions about the FTC’s consumer protection practices. Join TechFreedom and the International Center for Law and Economics (ICLE) on Thursday, July 31 at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company for a lunch and panel discussion on these issues, featuring Martin Gaynor, current Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Economics, and former FTC officials.  RSVP here and follow the conversation on Twitter.

#NetNeutrality debate continues as FCC reviews public comments

TechFreedom and the International Center for Law & Economics filed joint comments with the FCC, explaining why the FCC has no sound legal basis for micromanaging the Internet—now called “net neutrality regulation”—and why such regulation would harm consumers. See highlights from our filings and our other work on net neutrality.

Here are a few other things we’ve been up to:

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