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Net Neutrality The Reason Of Clash Between U.S. Government and States, Tech Firm

At the hearing in the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Stephen Williams questioned Michalopoulos's assertions that the FCC had wrongly classified the internet as an information service.

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USA, Net Neutrality
A view of the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse that houses the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in Washington. VOA

Tech companies and nearly two dozen U.S. states clashed with the government in federal court Friday over the repeal of net neutrality, a set of Obama-era rules aimed at preventing big internet providers from discriminating against certain technology and services.

Judges challenged arguments made by both sides in the face-off in an appeals court in Washington.

Lawyers for the states and the companies tried to persuade the three-judge panel to restore the net neutrality regime, set in 2015 but repealed in December 2017 at the direction of a regulator appointed by President Donald Trump. The companies challenging the FCC action include Mozilla, developer of the Firefox web browser, and Vimeo, a video-sharing site.

The net neutrality rules had banned cable, wireless and other broadband providers from blocking or slowing down websites and apps of their choosing, or charging Netflix and other video services extra to reach viewers faster.

Net Neutrality
A sign with an emoji that reads “Don’t take net neutrality away” is posted outside the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in Washington, Dec. 14, 2017. VOA

The practice of slowing down transmission is known as “throttling.”

The action by the Federal Communications Commission rolling back the neutrality rules “is a stab in the heart of the Communications Act,” said attorney Pantelis Michalopoulos, referring to the Depression-era law that established the FCC.

Information vs. telecom service

The FCC wrongly classified the internet as an information service rather than a telecom service, using that as a rationale for not cracking down on misconduct by big internet providers, Michalopoulos said, who represents Mozilla and the other companies in the case.

Government lawyers, as well as big internet providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, argued to keep net neutrality repealed.

Thomas Johnson, the FCC’s general counsel, said the agency’s “light-touch” regulatory scheme, requiring the internet providers to disclose their practices and operations, provides adequate safeguards. The internet — used more extensively to transmit information — is different both in nature and function from phone service, Johnson maintained. It therefore should be regulated as an information service and not subject to the utility-style oversight of phone companies, he said.

Net Neutrality
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, left, receives congratulations from Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, center, and Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, right, after his net neutrality bill was approved by the state Senate. VOA

The politically charged issue has emerged from its origins as an engineering challenge to become an anti-monopoly rallying point and even a focus for “resistance” to the Trump administration.

Once Trump took office, net neutrality became one of his first targets as part of broader government deregulation. The FCC chairman he appointed, Ajit Pai, made rolling back net neutrality a top priority.

On the other side, support for net neutrality comes from many of the same people who also are critical of the data-vacuuming tech giants that benefit from it. Politicians have glommed on to the cause to appear consumer-friendly.

The Democratic takeover of the House in November’s midterm elections could revive efforts to enshrine net neutrality in federal law, though Trump likely would veto any such attempts.

At the hearing in the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Stephen Williams questioned Michalopoulos’s assertions that the FCC had wrongly classified the internet as an information service. Telephone services, too, offer an array of customer products, he said. On the question of broadband providers charging premiums for faster service, Williams said a large majority of consumers prefer cheaper, lower-speed options, citing polls.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, center, announces the vote was approved to repeal net neutrality, next to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, left, who voted no, and Commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who voted yes, at the FCC, Dec. 14, 20
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, center, announces the vote was approved to repeal net neutrality, next to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, left, who voted no, and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who voted yes, at the FCC, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Judges’ views

The judges are weighing whether the FCC had the authority to nix the 2015 rules and get out of the business of enforcing net neutrality. It appeared that Williams was sympathetic to the FCC’s arguments, while Judge Patricia Millett raised possible legal avenues for the companies and states suing the agency, and Judge Robert Wilkins was the swing vote, said Doug Brake, director of broadband and spectrum policy for the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington think tank.

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The judges could decide to can the repeal or send it back to the FCC for a redo if they have specific objections.

“Today we fought for an open and free internet that puts consumers first,” Mozilla Chief Operating Officer Denelle Dixon said after the hearing. “We believe the FCC needs to follow the rules like everyone else.” (VOA)

Next Story

New Rule in USA to Allow Passengers to Bring Pet Animals on Flight

New Rules Could Bump Emotional-Support Animals From Planes

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Animals
Airlines can now let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply. Pixabay

The days of passengers bringing rabbits, turtles and birds on planes as emotional-support animals could be ending.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed that only specially trained dogs qualify as service animals, which must be allowed in the cabin at no charge. Airlines could let passengers bring other animals on board, but hefty fees would apply.

Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. They also imposed their own restrictions in response to passengers who show up at the airport with pigs, pheasants, turkeys, snakes and other unusual pets.

“This is a wonderful step in the right direction for people like myself who are dependent on and reliant on legitimate service animals that perform a task to mitigate our disability,” said Albert Rizzi, founder of My Blind Spot, which advocates for accessibility for people of different ability levels.

Animals
Airlines say the number of support animals has been growing dramatically in recent years, and they have lobbied to tighten the rules. Pixabay

Tighter rules praised

The U.S. airline industry trade group praised the tighter rules. Industry officials believe that hundreds of thousands of passengers scam the system each year by claiming they need their pet for emotional support. Those people avoid airline pet fees, which are generally more than $100 each way.

“Airlines want all passengers and crew to have a safe and comfortable flying experience, and we are confident the proposed rule will go a long way in ensuring a safer and healthier experience for everyone,” said Nicholas Calio, president of Airlines for America.

Flight attendants had pushed to rein in support animals, too, and were pleased with Wednesday’s proposed changes.

“The days of Noah’s Ark in the air are hopefully coming to an end,” said Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants. The union chief said untrained pets had hurt some of her members.

Veterans groups pleased

Veterans groups have sided with the airlines, arguing that a boom in untrained dogs and other animals threatens their ability to fly with properly trained service dogs. Last year, more than 80 veterans and disability groups endorsed banning untrained emotional-support animals in airline cabins.

“It’s just interesting how people want to have the benefits of having a disability without actually losing the use of their limbs or senses just so they can take their pet with them,” Rizzi said.

Southwest Airlines handles more than 190,000 emotional support animals per year. American Airlines carried 155,790 emotional support animals in 2017, up 48% from 2016, while the number of checked pets dropped 17%. United Airlines carried 76,000 comfort animals in 2017.

Department officials said in a briefing with reporters that they are proposing the changes to ensure safety on flights. They also said some passengers have abused the current rules.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposed changes, and they could take effect any time after that.

The Transportation Department proposes a narrow definition of a service animal — it would be a dog that is trained to help a person with a physical or other disability. Passengers who want to travel with a service dog will have to fill out a federal form on which they swear that the dog is trained to help them with their disability. A dog that is trained to help a passenger with psychiatric needs would continue to qualify as a service animal.

Animals on Planes
Oscar the cat, who is not a service animal, sits in his carry on travel bag after arriving at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. VOA

Note from medical professional

Currently, passengers have been allowed to bring many other animals if they have a medical professional’s note saying they need the animal for emotional support.

The proposal would prohibit airlines from banning particular types of dog breeds — Delta Air Lines bans pit bulls, for example — but airline employees could refuse to board any animal that they consider a threat to other people.

The president of the Humane Society of the United States said airlines had “maligned” pit bulls by banning them. Kitty Block said the Transportation Department’s rule against breed-specific prohibitions “sends a clear message to airlines that their discriminatory practices are not only unsound, but against the law.”

The new rules would also bar the current practice by many airlines of requiring animal owners to fill out paperwork 48 hours in advance. A department official said that practice can harm disabled people by preventing them from bringing their service dog on last-minute trips. But airlines could still require forms attesting to an animal’s good behavior and health, which could present challenges if the form has to be completed by a specific institution, Rizzi said.

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The proposal also says people with service animals must check in earlier than the general public, and would end the rarely seen use of miniature horses as service animals, although a Transportation Department official indicated the agency is open to reconsidering that provision.

Airlines could require that service animals be on a leash or harness and fit in its handler’s foot space. They could limit passengers to two service animals each, although it is unclear how often that happens under the current rules. (VOA)