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FTC Says It May Be Unable To Regulate Comcast, Google, and Verizon (arstechnica.com) 86

The Federal Trade Commission is worried that it may no longer be able to regulate companies such as Comcast, Google, and Verizon unless a recent court ruling is overturned, ArsTechnica reports. From the article: The FTC on Thursday petitioned the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals for a rehearing in a case involving AT&T's throttling of unlimited data plans. A 9th Circuit panel previously ruled that the FTC cannot punish AT&T, and the decision raises questions about the FTC's ability to regulate any company that operates a common carrier business such as telephone or Internet service. While the FTC's charter from Congress prohibits it from regulating common carriers, the agency has previously exercised authority to regulate these companies when they offer non-common carrier services. But the recent court ruling said that AT&T is immune from FTC oversight entirely, even when it's not acting as a common carrier. It isn't clear whether the ruling sets an ironclad precedent preventing the FTC from regulating any company with a common carrier business.
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FTC Says It May Be Unable To Regulate Comcast, Google, and Verizon

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  • This was of course not the intent of the law when it was written.

    • The spirit was willing, but the execution is weak.

    • This was of course not the intent of the law when it was written.

      Which of course highlights the utter fucking stupidity surrounding the "Spirit" interpretation of any law in the black and white world of legality we live in today.

    • by tsqr ( 808554 ) on Monday October 17, 2016 @02:57PM (#53094087)

      This was of course not the intent of the law when it was written.

      Laws are not supposed to be enforced according to someone's interpretation of their intent. If the law is not performing as intended, then it can be amended by the lawmakers.

      Oh yeah -- the courts are not supposed to interpret intent either; they're supposed to make judgements according to the way laws are written. This, of course, is an area where practice often departs from theory.

      • by sootman ( 158191 )

        > Oh yeah -- the courts are not supposed to interpret
        > intent either; they're supposed to make judgements
        > according to the way laws are written.

        Have you ever in your life seen a design spec that covered all possible use cases?

        • Have you ever in your life seen a design spec that covered all possible use cases?

          Nope, but I've also not seen a protracted court battle over something that wasn't actually addressed in the contract's specs either. I've seen debates of what the spec means, but never have I been sued for non-conformance on a requirement not at least implied by the contract.

          We have a serious problem in this country where our laws and regulations are out of hand and in many cases conflict with each other. This, my friends, is on of the paralyzing affects of "big government" and should not be so.

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        the courts are not supposed to interpret intent either; they're supposed to make judgements according to the way laws are written.

        If the courts are not the last line of defense against unjust laws, then who or what are?

        • by uncqual ( 836337 )

          The U.S. courts have no role in determining the "justness" or "unjustness" (or "fairness" or "unfairness") of a law. They are only to apply existing law -- which includes the United States Constitution which is the supreme law of the land.

          If Congress passed a law (and the President either signed it or the President's veto was overridden) that "No commercially produced shoes in half-sizes shall be shipped across state boundaries in trade", it might not be "fair" to people who wear a size 10½ shoe but

          • That's an overly simplistic (dare I say, engineering) view of how the law works. While their decisions are grounded in statute and constitutional law, as well as common law, they have broad enough latitude in how they apply it that they use a number of doctrines to actually figure out how they're going to rule even if they could rule either way based on the merits of the case. The higher up the court, the more likely this becomes - after all the case is sufficiently ambiguous that the lower courts couldn't

            • by uncqual ( 836337 )

              If the drafters of the shoe-size law were not rigorous, yes, the courts could decide it was too vague to enforce. However, it's easy to get this right so, unless the courts were doing something they should not be doing, it would not likely be an avenue that would result in an successful challenge to the law. "Fairness" of the law would never be a proper reason for a court to rule for/against the shoe-size law.

              Actually, the Supreme Court doesn't "strike down laws" - the laws often stay on the books because t

              • >"Fairness" of the law would never be a proper reason for a court to rule for/against the shoe-size law.

                Actually - that would entirely depend on how it's written. There are numerous laws which have a fairness clause - and explicitly leaves the question of whether a particular case is fair or not up to the courts to determine. This is common where the law is trying to protect an activity which should be legal in certain circumstances but not in others - and it's difficult to determine upfront a universal

                • by uncqual ( 836337 )

                  I didn't mention that the shoe-size law had a "fairness" clause. Most laws don't so it's disingenuous to assume that a random hypothetical law would when no mention has been made of such a clause.

                  The "fair use" section of copyright law is more the exception than the rule.The "fair use" section is an essential part of copyright law as, otherwise, the law would stifle the press et al from even quoting material from copyrighted sources and thus would interfere with the intent of portions of the First Amendment

                  • You are aware that similar sections in copyright laws all over the world, with radically different legal systems, all used the term 'fair' in their names ? Dutch/Roman law for example reffers to it as "fair dealing" exceptions.

                    • by uncqual ( 836337 )

                      It's still an unfortunate use of the term -- it's not "wrong", it creates confusion for many who don't understand the law and confuse the term with the more abstract and flexible and moralistic term "fair" rather than a relatively precise and narrow meaning in the US copyright law. It isn't a problem for those in the publishing business or in the legal profession of course.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Juries are.

          The legislative branch is supposed to pass good laws. Failing that...
          The executive branch is supposed to enforce the law fairly and refuse to enforce bad laws. Failing that...
          The judicial branch is supposed to decide whether a law is enforceable and how to do it, or if a law is a bad law that is completely unenforceable. Failing that...
          Jury nullification and voters kicking out the bad actors in the legislative and executive branches. Because "We The People" is how this whole thing is supposed to

      • Laws are not supposed to be enforced according to someone's interpretation of their intent. If the law is not performing as intended, then it can be amended by the lawmakers.

        Oh yeah -- the courts are not supposed to interpret intent either; they're supposed to make judgements according to the way laws are written. This, of course, is an area where practice often departs from theory.

        Several centuries would like to disagree with your talking point.

        Intent is *one* factor in interpreting what a law means. How persuasive a factor it is depends on the circumstances and the jurisdiction in which the law is being interpreted and all of the other factors that suggest a different result. Sometimes it comes in through lenses like "consistent with public policy" or "intent to solely regulate the entire area of law" or "under a statutory scheme designed to" or "the legislative history of the Amend

      • If a law is vague and two different interpretations are opposing each other, then what should the courts do when asked to adjudicate? The problem with the view that the courts should not be interpreting laws is used most often by people who think the laws are already perfectly clear and precise except and that their political opponents are just too stupid to see otherwise. In practice the vagueness of laws creates an entire industry of lawyers fighting back and forth hoping to make headway. After a few c

  • Screw your Courage to the sticking place. Stay with us dear customers!

    Our bottomless pit of greed means you no harm. There is no need for nasty government oversight. We will serve you, our loyal subjects. We will always treat you right, compete fairly, and allow new companies to compete with us.

  • "A 9th Circuit panel previously rule"

    Time to investigate the panel's financial records and those of their close friends and family for "improprieties" I'd say....

  • by omnichad ( 1198475 ) on Monday October 17, 2016 @02:17PM (#53093721) Homepage

    But the recent court ruling said that AT&T is immune from FTC oversight entirely, even when it's not acting as a common carrier.

    Well that's a dumb precedent to set. AT&T might as well start defrauding consumers in any way they can think of. The worst that happens is a few class action lawsuits...maybe.

    • by fedos ( 150319 )
      And you just know that any attempt by the FCC to regulate the areas of these companies that the FTC should be overseeing would result in the court saying that the FCC has no regulatory power over that business area.
  • by ausekilis ( 1513635 ) on Monday October 17, 2016 @02:17PM (#53093723)
    These companies are wireless phone providers, internet service providers, content creators, and cable television companies. When one company owns the full stack of an entertainment channel and can no longer be regulated by a single government agency, then they need to be broken up into their constituent parts. Just like the Ma Bell days of old.

    It's nothing more than a different style of monopoly similar to a mafia-run operation. You will buy only their product, from them, at prices they command. They've already killed all real competition, so you don't have a choice.
    • Owning the means to production is just good business sense - even the full vertical stack. Exploiting that is the only time there's a problem.

  • For "common carrier" to be a meaningful distinction, some agency needs to be responsible for making sure entities that claim to be common carriers actually behave that way. If it's not the FCC's responsibility, whose is it?

    • by fedos ( 150319 )

      You might want to re-read. It's the FTC, not the FCC, that the court said has no say in this matter. Not that I agree with the decision. What the court is essentially saying is that if a company acts as a common carrier in any way then the FTC has no say over their non-common carrier activities. So that would mean that the FTC can't regulate Yahoo because Yahoo is owned by Verizon.

      That's bullshit.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      entities that claim to be common carriers

      Today, the FCC is claiming authority over my company. So I choose not to be a common carrier. Tomorrow, the FTC tries to regulate me. Now I'll be a common carrier.

      Bullshit. It's not up to a company to pick and choose its regulatory environment. If it is doing common carrier stuff, the FCC should sent a letter saying, "You're fall under my jurisdiction." Don't want to be a common carrier? Then sell off those parts of your business that provide those services.

  • by StandardCell ( 589682 ) on Monday October 17, 2016 @02:19PM (#53093737)
    Since when did companies become immune to fraud, collusion and misrepresentation?

    Either:

    a. These companies become "immune" from the FTC, but lose their franchise/market exclusivity status permanently and pay the government back all of the money they were given to build infrastructure, or

    b. They can be sanctioned by the FTC for breach of consumer laws, fraud, misrepresentation and other consumer problems

    Between this and the now-mandatory binding arbitration clauses in consumer contracts from these companies, the American consumer is in a really bad spot.
    • by zifn4b ( 1040588 )

      Since when did companies become immune to fraud, collusion and misrepresentation?

      Did you know manipulating the stock market is illegal per the SEC yet corporations do it all the time via buybacks? How do you suppose that's allowed to happen? Have you looked at the Clinton administration wikileaks documents? For example: http://www.zerohedge.com/news/... [zerohedge.com]. It's all corrupt from top to bottom.

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Since when did companies become immune to fraud, collusion and misrepresentation?

      Since they bribed lawmakers and judge selectors to give them "freedom".

      They are people now: Giant people with deep pockets and lots of lawyers.

  • what about unfair metering CAN some regulate over that?

  • by Holi ( 250190 ) on Monday October 17, 2016 @03:07PM (#53094199)
    Why is the FTC trying to regulate a communications company, Isn't that the FCC's job? I mean unless this is an anti-trust issue it really seems like it would fall outside of the FTC's authority.
    • by The Raven ( 30575 ) on Monday October 17, 2016 @04:35PM (#53094931) Homepage

      Because AT&T is a communications company... and it sells phones, and is an employer, it pays taxes, and it owns shares of other companies.

      The FCC regulates AT&T's use of spectrum and communications.
      The FTC regulates their sale of physical goods and other trade.
      OSHA regulates their employee safety.
      The IRS regulates their tax payments.
      And the SEC regulates their purchase and sale of stocks.

      Just because they are a telecommunication company doesn't mean that nobody but the FCC has any jurisdiction, ever.

    • False advertising is under FTC jurisdiction - and that should not have anything to do with the company's main line of business. The FCC doesn't regulate advertising.

  • ...The US Chamber of Commerce. They have an army of lawyers and keep crafting very complex cases in the Supreme Court to get the laws to suit the interests of large corporations. Think I'm kidding? Do your research? While you're at it, research them holding money in offshore accounts and using buybacks to inflate their stock price instead of reinvesting back in the growth of the corporations. It's become quite corrupt these days. It's going to take a lot to rein in the corruption and I'm not sure how
  • I regulated Comcast. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mmell ( 832646 ) on Monday October 17, 2016 @05:25PM (#53095447)
    I bought (not rented, not paid for via installments, bought) a Comcast-branded cable router (to ensure physical layer compatibility with Comcast's cable network offering). I turned off the wifi and attached my own wifi router via 1G copper. No XFINITY free hotspot.

    But you know, just when I thought it was safe to go back in the internet, Comcast flashed my router. Suddenly, even with wifi explicitly turned "off", there was the XFINITY free hotspot, just advertising that any wardrivers with a valid or hacked Comcast account should park near my place.

    Anybody ever see what the built-in (internal) antenna on an Arris cable modem/router looks like? It's just a little green piece of circuit board, and the connector just comes right off without any excess tugging or pulling. I do think Comcast misses me, though - they seem to send hits downstream to my cable modem/router several times a day. It's vaguely frustrating to hit these forty to fifty second network outages from them because they just can't believe nobody is using my free wifi SSID.

    But I regulated Comcast.

  • If thats the game they want to play alright then. In order to avoid regulatory loopholes, businesses operating under common can no longer offer non common carrier services.

    I'd be more than happy to have all isp's be just isp's. If all they can compete on is data service, we might start to see some real advancement in isp offerings.

    • I think if the precedent holds that common carrier is black or white and who regulates them based on that holds, they're going to still be able to offer non-common services. What they really won't like, though, is that this is consistent with the FCC's argument that because they are common carriers and tie non-common offerings to common offerings that the FCC gets to regulate the non-common offerings.

  • Don't worry, FTC. CIA has you covered.

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