Welcome to the Media Law Roundup, a survey of developing media news.
FCC Fines AT&T $100 Million
The Federal Communications Commission fined AT&T $100 million on June 17, 2015, charging the company with misrepresenting and mismanaging its unlimited data plans. The fine comes after thousands of consumers complained about throttled data speeds. AT&T stopped offering unlimited data plans to new customers in 2010, and those customers with unlimited plans were grandfathered in. Since 2011, AT&T has been throttling the data speeds for its unlimited subscribers. The FCC ruled that AT&T had not adequately disclosed its throttling policy to subscribers, with Chairman Tom Wheeler stating, “Consumers deserve to get what they pay for…The FCC will not stand idly by while consumers are deceived by misleading marketing materials and insufficient disclosure.” AT&T has expressed its intent to appeal the fine. The fine from the FCC follows a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission in October 2014, which sued AT&T for throttling supposedly unlimited data plans, slowing internet to near dial-up speeds.
Net Neutrality Officially in Place
Net neutrality is officially in place in the United States after opponents failed to prevent the rules from taking effect on June 12, 2015. Several internet service providers and trade groups such as AT&T and the American Cable Association sued the Federal Communications Commission in federal court over the net neutrality rules, with the hope of stalling the implementation of the new rules. These lawsuits centered on the Title II opposed to the “bright line” rules of net neutrality (no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization). The refusal of federal judges to stay the implementation of net neutrality means that the rules are currently in force, pending final rulings on the ongoing lawsuits. The effects of net neutrality have already begun to show, as Sprint dropped its data throttling policy in order to “ensure that [their] practices are consistent with the FCC’s net neutrality rules.”
France Calls for Google to Apply RTBF Everywhere
On June 12, 2015, France’s Commission Nationale de l’Informatique et des Libertes ordered Google to remove delisted content from all Google domains. Under the European Court of Justice “right to be forgotten” ruling, European Union citizens can request information considered irrelevant, outdated, or illegal to be removed from Google’s search results. Currently, a requested delisting applies only to the domain through which the request was made (i.e., Google.fr). The order from France’s data-privacy regulator calls for delisting from all domains, including Google.com. The pressure from France to extend RTBF beyond the borders of the European Union is the latest conflict between Google and the EU. In April 2015, the European Union hit Google with an antitrust lawsuit over the search engine’s dominance in online shopping, arguing that Google manipulates its search results to give itself an unfair advantage. Google has until July 7, 2015 to respond to those accusations.
Russia Pushes Own (Stricter) Version of RTBF
The right to be forgotten (RTBF) may soon be implemented outside of the European Union, but with significant changes. On June 16, 2015, the Russian parliament granted preliminary approval to its own version of the right to be forgotten. Under Russia’s right to be forgotten law—as opposed to its European counterpart—users can state what information they wish to have delisted from search results, leaving search engines to find that information, determine whether the information meets the criteria of the right to be forgotten law, and delete the information. Russia’s RTBF would also extend to persons in the public interest, another significant different from the EU’s RTBF regulation. Popular Russian search engine Yandex said, “The limitations introduced by this bill reflect an imbalance between private and public interests. This bill impedes people’s access to important and reliable information, or makes it impossible to obtain such information.” The bill received initial approval with 423 lawmakers in support and one against. If made into law (following two more votes and a presidential signature), the bill will come into force on January 1, 2016.
REPORT: Mass Surveillance Violates International Law
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has published his annual report on encryption, anonymity, and the human rights framework. In his report, Kaye states that actions such as forced registration in Russia, real name requirements in Vietnam and China, and restrictions on encryption in Pakistan are all violations of international law. Kaye concludes his report by saying, “Because of their importance to the rights of freedom of opinion and expression, restrictions on encryption and anonymity must be strictly limited according to principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and legitimacy in objective.” The full report can be downloaded here (Word document).
Tunisia Will Not Censor the Internet
At the Africa Internet Summit that ran from May 24-June 5, 2015, Tunisia’s Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy, Noomane Fehri, stated that Tunisia would not adopt a policy for internet censorship. “It’s a difficult equation,” said Fehri, “but we are determined to build an open, safe and responsible internet under the law.” The minister also reaffirmed Tunisia’s commitment to internet initiatives, as well as its willingness to cooperate with other African nations.
REPORT: Russia Violates Free Speech in Crimea
The representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Dunja Mijatovic published her regular report on June 18, 2015. In the report, she condemns Russia for violations of Crimean free speech, including the refusal of Russian regulatory authorities to approve Crimean language media outlets for broadcast. To read the full report, click here.