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FCC Votes to End Net Neutrality Rules

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced last week that the FCC would roll back “net neutrality,” which led to many complaints from Democrats. But they need to answer this: Why is it better for the federal government rather than customers to decide how networks should handle data? (Federal Communications Commission via Wikimedia Commons)

Most people who navigate the Internet have certain expectations when surfing the world wide web.  Upon navigating the Internet, the expectation is that the cable or phone company connects to the websites, applications, and selected content without running interference.

Having complete control of the Internet experience void a service looking at every key-stroke, speeding up or slowing content, or blocking equates to expecting to be in control of the Internet experience defined as “Net Neutrality.”

Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits Internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites navigated. Net Neutrality is the way that the internet has always worked.

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to dismantle rules regulating the businesses that connect consumers to the internet, granting broadband companies the power to potentially reshape Americans’ online experiences.

The agency scrapped the so-called net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone service.

The action reversed the agency’s 2015 decision, during the Obama administration, to have stronger oversight over broadband providers as Americans have migrated to the internet for most communications. It reflected the view of the Trump administration and the new F.C.C. chairman that unregulated business will eventually yield innovation and help the economy.

Despite overwhelming opposition from Congress, technical experts, advocacy organizations and, of course, the American people, the FCC moved to eliminate 2015’s Open Internet Order and the net neutrality protections it established.

The order passed, “Restoring Internet Freedom,” essentially removes the FCC as a regulator of the broadband industry and relegates rules that prevented blocking and throttling content to the honor system. The FTC now ostensibly has that role, but it is far from an expert agency on this topic and cannot make preemptive rules like those that have been in place for the last few years.

As expected, the vote was 3 to 2 along party lines, with Chairman Ajit Pai and Republican Commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly voting in favor of the order, and Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voting against.

Clyburn and Rosenworcel made their feelings known at the meeting with some fierce remarks on the order and the procedures leading up to it:

“I dissent from this fiercely spun, legally lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order,” said Commissioner Clyburn. “There is a basic fallacy underlying the majority’s actions and rhetoric today: the assumption of what is best for broadband providers is best for America. What saddens me is that the agency that is supposed to protect you is abandoning you. But what I am pleased to be able to say is the fight to save net neutrality does not end today. This agency does not have the final word. Thank goodness.”

“I dissent from this rash decision to roll back net neutrality rules,” said Commissioner Rosenworcel. “I dissent from the corrupt process that has brought us to this point. And I dissent from the contempt this agency has shown our citizens in pursuing this path today. This decision puts the Federal Communications Commission on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”

Both will soon publish more substantive dissenting statements that lay out the problems with the order as voted on and perhaps give a hint as to how it may be legally challenged once it takes effect.

Chairman Pai introduced the same talking points he’s been pushing since 2015. That the law that dictates the internet remain “unfettered by federal and state regulation” (that part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act is advisory, and also about porn); that the 2015 rules were “designed in the ’30s to regulate Ma Bell” (they were rebuilt from the ground up in 1996, as he explained moments earlier); that the regulations had destroyed jobs (the jobs never existed); that small ISPs were harmed (I’ve asked the ones he’s cited repeatedly and they have never explained how) — and how edge providers are a bigger threat than ISP discrimination.

He asked that the internet be “driven by engineers” and not “lawyers and accountants” — ironic because hundreds of prominent engineers have pointed out the technical shortcomings of the order, which is largely based on economic analysis and legal hair-splitting.

Pai’s remarks were interrupted by security, which asked everyone to leave the meeting room so it could be swept by what appeared to be bomb-sniffing dogs.

Commissioner O’Rielly said the 2015 order, which was “railroaded” by the Obama administration, dealt primarily with theoretical threats, and called commentary suggesting possible harm “fearmongering.” He also said he saw no reason to have public meetings on the topic, since anyone interested could just leave a comment.

Commissioner Carr said this was “a great day,” recalling the halcyon days of 2008-2014, during which the internet grew unencumbered by 2015’s “unprecedented…massive regulatory overreach.” The open internet we know, he said, emerged from that framework; “Title II did not build that,” he said, and its removal will not lead us to a “Mad Max” version of the internet.

He also said, misleadingly, that the classification of broadband under Title I is the only one “blessed” by the Supreme Court, in 2005. In fact, the Supreme Court famously specifically declined to “bless” any particular classification, deferring to the FCC’s choice as an expert agency; and more recently courts have upheld the classification of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service — not to mention the fact that the people who actually created the modern internet insist that is the case as well.

As with all FCC orders of this magnitude, its effects do not take place immediately. The rules must first be entered in the federal register, something that will likely take place early next year.

According to the Washington Post, “Some analysts believe the uncertainty surrounding net neutrality provides an opening for congressional legislation to settle the issue once and for all. Republicans on Capitol Hill are optimistic. But their efforts are likely to stall unless they can court Democratic votes, and many Democrats view litigation against the FCC as the preferable course of action.”

Varying opinions on “Net Neutrality” point to a divide that began as a bipartisan issue, but has shape shifted into two distinct sides.

LeNora Millen          12-15-17

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Politics

Government Shutdown: What’s Closed, Who is Affected?

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 What happens if the government shuts down
Federal agencies braced for a government shutdown as Congress negotiated on reaching a short-term spending deal before a funding deadline at midnight on Friday.

Government shutdowns are rare, especially when one party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House. The last shutdown was in 2013 and lasted 17 days.

If a shutdown happens, many major federal responsibilities, like sending Social Security checks and operating the military, would continue. Each federal agency has a shutdown plan, written in consultation with the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and the administration would have some wiggle room in what it does.

In general, government operations and employees deemed “essential,” like those in the military and law enforcement, would continue to report to work. It’s a label that applies to more than half of the 2.1 million or so non-postal federal employees.

Those workers would still get paid, but not until after the shutdown ends.

During the 2013 shutdown, 850,000 individuals were furloughed per day, according to the OMB.

Employees in “non-essential” government functions, meanwhile, would stay home and actually be prohibited from showing up. Congress acted to pay those employees after previous shutdowns, but pay is not guaranteed.

Some government programs, such as Social Security payments, are not subject to the appropriations process. Those would continue, though some functions, like processing new Social Security applications, would shut down.

In 2013, federal permitting and environmental reviews were put on hold, along with the processing of import and export license applications and federal loans for small business, families and rural communities. According to the OMB, the shutdown also delayed almost $4 billion in tax refunds.

Here’s how some federal agencies plan to whether a shutdown:

Health and Human Services 

HHS would have to put about half of its 82,000 staff on furlough.

Larger programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and disability insurance would be largely unaffected by a government shutdown, and current beneficiaries would continue to receive their benefits.

But processing new applications for these programs could slow because there would be fewer employees around to do them.

The FDA would have to cancel the majority of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities, including routine food safety inspections. The CDC, meanwhile, would be unable to support its annual seasonal flu program during one of the most severe flu outbreaks in recent history and could stop tracking disease outbreaks.

The National Institutes of Health would continue patient care for current cancer patients but would not admit new patients or accept new grant proposals.

National Park Service

The national parks became a lightning rod in the 2013 government shutdown. Parks around the country were closed, and many, including some areas of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., that are managed by the Park Service, were barricaded.

The Trump administration may be able to avoid that scenario. The Washington Post reported that administration officials are exploring ways to keep parks open and let visitors come in.

“In the event of a shutdown, national parks and other public lands will remain as accessible as possible while still following all applicable laws and procedures,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement.

“Visitors who come to our nation’s capital will find war memorials and open-air parks open to the public. Nationally, many of our national parks, refuges and other public lands will still allow limited access wherever possible.”

Other Interior Department activities would have to shut down. The Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, for example, would not process oil-drilling permits.

Department of Defense

At the Pentagon, military personnel should expect to show up to work during a shutdown, but not expect any pay for the duration.

“No one gets paid. The civilians who report to duty do not get paid. The military who are in theater do not get paid. They earn the rights to the payment, but the payment cannot be made until the shutdown is over,” Defense Department Comptroller David Norquist told reporters last month.

Speaking at the Pentagon on Dec. 7, then ahead of a possible shutdown, Norquist said civilians should also expect to show up for work if their job falls under “excepted activities,” positions related to the protection of life and property.

The fiscal halt also extends to the death benefits received by families of military members killed in the line of duty. Weapons system maintenance and readiness training, meanwhile, would also come to a stop unless it is deemed an “excepted activity.”

State Department

Heather Nauert, a spokeswoman for the State Department, said Thursday that officials were developing contingency plans, while Secretary Rex Tillerson‘s office was reviewing the agency’s options.

“We will be prepared for all contingencies, I want to make that clear, including the possibility of a lapse,” Nauert said at a press briefing, noting that Tillerson would ultimately have discretion over how the department deals with a shutdown.

Most Americans only come in contact with the State Department when trying to obtain or renew passports. In 2013, however, passport offices, which are funded by fee revenue, remained open.

Internal Revenue Service

A large percentage of the IRS’s workforce is expected to stop working during a shutdown, though the upcoming filing season may mean that more employees are still working than otherwise would be the case.

The IRS’s document for non-filing season shutdowns states that only about 13 percent of employees would continue working. While the 2018 filing season officially opens on Jan. 29, the document describes the filing season period as Jan. 1 through April 30.

The document notes that “historically, more exempted employees are required during the filing season to ensure activities related to executing the filing season are worked.”

IRS activities that continue during the filing season include testing of filing-season programs, processing of paper tax returns and design and printing of tax year forms.

Financial regulation

A government shutdown would halt most of the federal government’s oversight of financial trading. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) would both be forced to furlough thousands of workers responsible for monitoring financial markets. Only SEC and CFTC staffers involved in law enforcement activities or protecting “life or property” would continue working.

All other regulatory and supervisory function of the Wall Street watchdog would pause until Congress funds the government again.

Other financial sector regulators won’t be affected by a shutdown. The Federal Reserve system, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation are all independently funded and would continue their oversight of the banking system. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Credit Union Administration are also independently funded and would stay open during the crisis.

Federal Communications Commission

Like other agencies, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates telecommunications providers like AT&T and Verizon as well as broadcasters, would roll back its staff to essential employees only, furloughing the vast majority of its 1,492 employees.

The agency says it expects to retain roughly 37 employees during the shutdown to cover essential matters like critical IT issues, protect property and handle emergency communications and functions related to national security.

The FCC would keep an additional 185 employees whose pay does not come from congressional appropriations to keep the agency’s spectrum auction activities up and running.

The agency’s chairman and four commissioners would also continue to work through the shutdown.

In the interim, the agency would cease some operations, including issuing new broadcast licenses and processing equipment certifications for new electronic devices.

Courts

The Supreme Court would not only remain open to visitors but carry on with business as usual in the event of a shutdown.

“In the event of a lapse of appropriations, the Court will continue to conduct its normal operations, and the Court building will be open to the public during its usual hours,” Kathleen Arberg, the court’s public information officer, said in a statement to The Hill.

“The Court will rely on non-appropriated funds, as it has in the past, to maintain operations through the duration of short-term lapses of appropriations.”

Federal district, appeals and bankruptcy courts across the country will also remain open, relying on court fees and appropriations that aren’t tied to a specific year.

“The judiciary is able to sustain paid operations through court fees and no-year appropriations for approximately three weeks, or through Feb. 9,” Charles Hall, a spokesman in the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, said in an email.

Department of Justice

If there is a government shutdown, the 114,647 employees at the Justice Department as of Sept. 8 would drop to 95,102 for the first five calendar days. The rest of the workers would be furloughed, according to the agency’s latest contingency plan.

Because the Justice Department is comprised of about 40 components tasked with a broad array of national security, law enforcement and criminal justice system responsibilities, the agency said that it has a high percentage of activities and employees that can continue working during a lapse in appropriations.

Capitol Hill

The Capitol would become a ghost town during a shutdown, offering a regular reminder to lawmakers of the consequences.

Fewer Capitol police officers would report for duty, while those working would do so without pay. Only “essential” staff would be required to work, making it harder for offices to handle the sudden flood of constituent phone calls.

Most committee activity would be suspended, as would Capitol tours.

Depending on the length of the shutdown, senators would be forced to walk past a frozen clock in a hallway outside the chamber — the staff responsible for winding it would be furloughed, too. In 2013, the clock’s hands were stuck at 12:14 for days until the government reopened.

Mueller investigation

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election would continue since its funding does not come from annual appropriations.

Smithsonian Institution

Smithsonian museums along the National Mall and the National Zoo will remain open through the weekend, the institution said Thursday.

But if the shutdown extends to Monday, all of its public facilities, including the popular web cameras that broadcast animals at the zoo, would have to close. Many of the behind-the-scenes operations, such as feeding animals, have been deemed essential and would continue.

Transportation Security Administration

The Transportation Security Administration will continue operations in the event of a government closure, according to one official, with security functions and air marshals still in place.

Federal Aviation Administration

The government shutdown is not expected to delay flights or have an impact on the airline industry. Air traffic control, which is run by the Federal Aviation Administration, would still operate, while most of the agency’s aviation safety inspectors would keep working.

Photo/Getty Images

Source:  The Hill

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Health Care

Medicare Takes Aim at Medical Identity Theft: Protecting Seniors From Fraud

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Criminals are increasingly targeting people age 65 or older for personal identity theft. In 2014 alone, there were 2.6 million such incidents among seniors, according to the Department of Justice.

A growing offshoot of identity theft is healthcare fraud, which can result when someone unlawfully uses another person’s Medicare number. Medical identity theft can lead to inaccuracies in medical records, which in turn can result in delayed care, denied services and costly false claims.

That’s why Medicare works with the Department of Justice, taking aim squarely at would-be thieves. In the largest law enforcement action against criminals fraudulently targeting the Medicare, Medicaid and Tricare programs, 412 people around the country, including 115 doctors, nurses and other licensed medical professionals, were charged in 2017 with bilking U.S. taxpayers out of $1.3 billion.

New Medicare Card for 2018. (Video Courtesy of YouTube)

The next big fraud-fighting push is well underway — and its focus is protecting the personal information of senior citizens by removing their Social Security numbers from Medicare cards.

People with Medicare don’t need to take any action to get a new Medicare card. Beginning in April 2018, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) will mail out newly designed Medicare cards to the 58 million Americans with Medicare. The cards will have a new number that will be unique for each card recipient. This will help protect personal identity and prevent fraud because identity thieves can’t bill Medicare without a valid Medicare number. To help with a seamless transition to the new cards, providers will be able to use secure lookup tools that will support quick access to the new card numbers when needed.

Healthcare fraud drives up costs for everyone, but healthcare consumers can be an effective first line of defense against fraud. Follow these tips to help protect yourself:

Do

  • Treat your Medicare number like a credit card.
  • When the new card comes in the mail next year, destroy your old card and make sure you bring your new one to your doctors’ appointments.
  • Be suspicious of anyone offering early bird discounts, limited time offers or encouraging you to act now for the best deal. That’s an indicator of potential fraud because Medicare plans are forbidden from offering incentives.
  • Be skeptical of free gifts, free medical services, discount packages or any offer that sounds too good to be true.
  • Only give your Medicare number to doctors, insurers acting on your behalf or trusted people in the community who work with Medicare, like your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP).
  • Report suspected instances of fraud.
  • Check your Medicare statements to make sure the charges are accurate.

Don’t

  • Don’t share your Medicare number or other personal information with anyone who contacts you by telephone, email or approaches you in person, unless you’ve given them permission in advance. Medicare will never contact you uninvited and request your Medicare number or other personal information.
  • Don’t let anyone borrow or pay to use your Medicare number.
  • Don’t allow anyone, except your doctor or other Medicare providers, to review your medical records or recommend services.
  • Don’t let anyone persuade you to see a doctor for care or services you don’t need.
  • Don’t accept medical supplies from a door-to-door salesman.

Learn more about how you can fight Medicare fraud at Medicare.gov/fraud, or call 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227). You can also visit a local SHIP counselor, who can provide free, one-on-one, non-biased Medicare assistance.

With a common sense approach to protecting health information, senior citizens can be effective partners in fighting Medicare fraud.

 

Source: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

@LeNoraMillen       01-19-18

 

 

 

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Politics

Trump Children’s Health Insurance Tweet Contradicts White House Administration

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Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump contradicted his own administration on Thursday when he tweeted that funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program  (CHIP) should not be included in a short-term plan to fund the government.

Trump’s tweet sent on Thursday morning, seemingly undercut the “Stopgap Spending Bill,” leaving many confused at what could be construed as an “Anti-Chip” tweet.

Read more here

@LeNoraMillen     01-18-18

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