What the FCC rollback of ‘net neutrality’ means to you

The entrance to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) building in Washington. “Net neutrality” regulations, designed to prevent Internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter from favoring some sites and apps over others, are on the chopping block. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, on Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, unveiled a plan to undo the Obama-era rules that have been in place since 2015. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)
Updated 15 December 2017
0

What the FCC rollback of ‘net neutrality’ means to you

Now that the federal government has rolled back the Internet protections it put in place two years ago, the big question is: What does the repeal of “net neutrality’ rules mean to you?
In the short term, the answer is simple: Not much. But over time, your ability to watch what you want to watch online and to use the apps that you prefer could start to change.
Your mobile carrier, for instance, might start offering you terrific deals for signing up to its own video service, just as your YouTube app starts suffering unexpected connection errors. Or you could wake one day to learn that your broadband provider is having a tiff with Amazon, and has slowed down its shopping site in order to extract business concessions.
All of which would be perfectly legal under the new deregulatory regime approved Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission, so long as the companies post their policies online. Broadband providers insist they won’t do anything that harms the “Internet experience” for consumers.
What happened
On Thursday, the FCC repealed Obama-era “net neutrality” rules, junking the longtime principle that all web traffic must be treated equally. The move represents a radical departure from more than a decade of federal oversight.
The big telecommunications companies had lobbied hard to overturn the rules, contending they are heavy-handed and discourage investment in broadband networks.
“What is the FCC doing today?” asked FCC chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican. “Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the Internet for most of its existence.”
Under the new rules approved Thursday, companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T would be free to slow down or block access to services they don’t like. They could also charge higher fees to rivals and make them pay up for higher transmission speeds, or set up “fast lanes” for their preferred services — in turn, relegating everyone else to “slow lanes.”
Those possibilities have stirred fears among consumer advocates, Democrats, many web companies and ordinary Americans afraid that the cable and phone giants will be able to control what people see and do online.
What happens next
In the near term, experts believe that providers will stay on their best behavior. In part, that’s because inevitable legal challenges to the FCC’s action will keep the spotlight on them.
Public-interest groups such as Free Press and Public Knowledge have said they’ll be involved in litigation against Pai’s rules. New York’s attorney general vowed to lead a multistate lawsuit; the attorneys general of Massachusetts and Washington state also announced plans to sue.
“The fact that Chairman Pai went through with this, a policy that is so unpopular, is somewhat shocking,” said Mark Stanley, a spokesman for the civil liberties organization Demand Progress. “Unfortunately, not surprising.”
Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said he would introduce legislation to overturn the FCC’s action , restoring the previous net-neutrality rules. That move, however, could face tough opposition, given that Republicans control both houses of Congress.
Once the klieg lights fade
Things could be different assuming the rules survive legal and congressional challenges.
AT&T senior executive vice president Bob Quinn said in a blog post that the Internet “will continue to work tomorrow just as it always has.” Like other broadband providers, AT&T said it won’t block websites and won’t throttle or degrade online traffic based on content.
But such things have happened before. The Associated Press in 2007 found Comcast was blocking some file-sharing services. AT&T blocked Skype and other Internet calling services — which competed with its voice-call business — from the iPhone until 2009.
Thursday’s rule change also eliminates certain federal consumer protections, bars state laws that contradict the FCC’s approach, and largely transfers oversight of Internet service to another agency with relatively little experience in telecommunications policy, the Federal Trade Commission.
Angelo Zino, an analyst at CFRA Research, said he expects AT&T and Verizon to be the biggest beneficiaries because the two Internet giants can now give priority to the movies, TV shows and other videos or music they provide to viewers. That could hurt rivals such as Sling TV, Amazon, YouTube or startups yet to be born.


Battle lines drawn as EU court weighs fate of gene-edited crops

Updated 20 July 2018
0

Battle lines drawn as EU court weighs fate of gene-edited crops

  • The European Union has long restricted the use of genetically modified organisms widely adopted around the world
  • The first wave of gene-edited crops may involve removing harmful elements from food
LONDON: Gene editing in agriculture takes center stage next Wednesday when Europe’s highest court rules in a case that could determine the fate of the technology that is already making waves in the field of medicine.
The European Union has long restricted the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) widely adopted around the world, but there is legal uncertainty as to whether modern gene editing of crops should fall under the same strict GMO rules.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will rule whether the use of genetic mutation, or mutagenesis, which is now exempt from GMO rules, should differentiate between techniques that have been used for decades and the new gene-editing technology.
The biotech industry argues that much of gene editing is effectively little different to the mutagenesis that occurs naturally or is induced by radiation — a standard plant breeding method since the 1950s.
But environmentalists, anti-GM groups and farmers concerned about the potential environmental and health impacts of all genetically engineered products fear that allowing gene editing would usher in a new era of “GMO 2.0” via the backdoor.
Gene editing with the CRISPR/Cas9 tool and other techniques has the potential to make hardier and more nutritious crops — as well as offering drug companies new ways to fight human disease.
US biotech firm Calyxt, for example, has gene edited soybeans to produce healthier oil with no trans fats and it is growing 17,000 acres of its new design across the US Midwest this year.
Big agrochemical specialists such as Germany’s Bayer and US firm DowDuPont are also stepping up investment in the technology.
The case before the ECJ was brought by a group of French agricultural associations that want the existing EU exemption for plant varieties obtained via mutagenesis to be restricted to long-standing conventional techniques.
While older GMO technology typically adds new DNA to a crop or animal, gene editing can cause a mutation by changing a few pieces of DNA code. It works with great speed and precision, like the find-and-replace function on a word processor.
“Anything you can do by standard mutagenesis you can do 10 or maybe 50 times quicker,” said Johnathan Napier, who is leading a trial at Rothamsted Research which has involved the sowing of the first gene-edited crops in Britain.
He said the first wave of gene-edited crops may involve removing harmful elements from food, such as developing peanuts without peanut allergens or castor bean oil without ricin toxin.
But critics say the technology is not yet proven safe — an argument that may have gained weight this week after research suggested gene editing can cause risky collateral DNA damage.
So far, the signs are that the court may lean toward the biotech industry’s view. ECJ advocate general Michal Bobek advised in January that organisms could be exempt from GMO rules if they did not have added foreign DNA.
The advocate general’s view is not binding but is usually followed by ECJ judges.
John Brennan, secretary general of the biotech industry group EuropaBio, believes gene-edited crops will bring consumer and environmental benefits, as well as keeping Europe at the forefront of a technology important for jobs and growth.
“A clearer regulatory status is essential for communicating and understanding the opportunities that these tools and products present,” he said.
The first wave of gene-edited crops involves removing potentially harmful elements, such as the allergens in peanuts or ricin toxin in castor bean oil, said Napier at Rothmsted.
Environmental groups see things very differently.
“We’re talking about genetic engineering and that should be regulated under GMO law,” said Franziska Achterberg of Greenpeace.
Friends of the Earth, which helped bring the original case in France, contends that failure to regulate gene editing could cause permanent damage to Europe’s food sector.
Some retail groups that have been working to produce and market non-GMO food have also expressed concern.
Currently, strict rules mean only one GM crop, a variety of maize, is grown in Europe and while the EU allows the import of others they are exclusively used as animal feed.