Friday, March 13, 2015

New Obama Internet regulations mean new taxes and less service, critics say

The Federal Communications Commission released more than 300 pages of Internet regulations Thursday, which critics say will increase the cost of Internet and slow improvements.

The regulations, which include “net neutrality” rules, were called for by President Obama and approved by a 3-to-2 vote of FCC commissioners. Opponents say the regulations are an illegal bureaucratic power grab, and that if they are allowed to stand in court they will do harm.

“The consequences: higher broadband prices, slower speeds… less innovation, and fewer options for American consumers,” Ajit Pai, a commissioner at the FCC, said in his dissent.

So in plain English, what is in all the 317 pages of new rules?

Paves the way for new taxes

The regulations talk about a new tax on Internet providers in a positive light, noting it could add “to the stability of the universal service fund,” which subsidizes building connections in unprofitable areas.

The new regulations pave the way for new taxes, because they define Internet service providers as “public utilities” – which could subject them to the many taxes levied on phone service companies.

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Monday, March 9, 2015

ATF misfire? Guide indicates bullets at center of firestorm already banned; agency blames 'error'

It looked like the fix was in. But the ATF says it was just a misfire.

As the ATF faces a firestorm of controversy for seeking public comment on a proposal to ban a popular type of bullet, critics last week claimed the agency may have decided in advance how it would rule.

They pointed to the ATF's latest "Firearms Regulation Reference Guide," released in January 2015. The guide, curiously, did not contain an exemption for popular ".223 M855 "green tip" ammunition" that was included in earlier guides. Without that exemption, the ammunition is illegal to sell. (The change in language was first noticed by Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich at

So did the ATF already make up its mind?

No, the agency claims. The ATF has responded that the reference guide is not legally binding, so the bullets have not actually been banned yet, and has apologized for leaving the exemptions out of the guide. They say it was an innocent mistake. And the proposed ban is apparently still under consideration.

"[It] was an error which has no legal impact on the validity of the exemptions," ATF public affairs chief Ginger Colbrun told in an emailed statement, adding that it will be corrected soon.

"The 2014 Regulation Guide will be corrected in PDF format to include the listing of armor piercing ammunition exemptions and posted shortly... ATF apologizes for any confusion caused by this publishing error."

As of Monday, the 2014 guide with the error was no longer available on the ATF website.

Case closed? Perhaps. Gun-rights supporters say that such errors are common for the ATF -- but that it could also have been a tip-of-the-hand that the administration already had reached a decision on banning the bullets.

"This is either real incompetence or ATF got caught with their pants down. With this administration it could be both," Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation told

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The author, Maxim Lott, can be reached on Facebook or at

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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Google works to rank sites based on ‘truthfulness'

In a step that critics worry will inject political bias into search results, a Google research team released a report this month on ranking search results based on how factual websites are. They propose eventually using that to change Google rankings, which are currently based on website popularity.

The Google researchers give, as an example, websites that say President Obama was born in Kenya; such sites would be penalized in Google rankings, whereas sites that correctly say he was born in the U.S. would get a boost in rankings.

That fact is not controversial, but critics worry that this is a first step towards Google playing God and effectively censoring content it does not like. They fear that skeptics of things like climate change or more immigration (both subjects that Google founders have expressed strong feelings about) might find their websites buried if this ranking system were adopted.

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