Overturning Net Neutrality a Solution in Search of a Problem
‘All internet traffic shall be treated equally’ – Trump’s FCC begs to differ
What a delightful quirk to the continuing saga of human progress: the internet, that life-changing innovation that most businesses and consumers cannot do without, was built on egalitarian principles. We all enjoy unfettered access.
Compare that to previous discoveries that led to momentous transformations to people’s’ lives. Most were controlled by an elite few and shared when only thoroughly monetized. The internet seems to be an exception. The reason: net neutrality.
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the governments that regulate them must treat all data, traffic, content, websites, platforms, whatever method of communication, the same. No authority is allowed to block, speed up or slow down or give preferential treatment to any online content.
Some profound person came up with the analogy of the “dumb pipe.” That is, the water pipes in a city’s water supply system provide a steady stream of water to users without regard to the user’s identity or what the water will be used for…because it is unable to distinguish them…and discriminate.
A free, open internet is essential for small business start-ups and entrepreneurs to get their word out. Without net neutrality, perhaps Google or Facebook would have never launched and enriched our lives.
It is the way we’ve always enjoyed the internet. It preserves our right to communicate freely online.
Obama’s FCC Protected Net Neutrality
During the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had eyes and ears on certain ISPs’ attempts to violate open internet rules. Specifically, both Comcast and Verizon were caught “throttling,” or slowing down, video streaming in order to allegedly incentivize pricing schemes. AT&T was caught limiting access to FaceTime so that only AT&T customers could enjoy that application.
After the courts rejected two FCC attempts to craft net neutrality rules because they lacked a legal foundation, the agency under chairman Tom Wheeler in February 2015 came up with a remedy: classify the internet as a “common carrier” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. It held. People continued to enjoy the internet as they always knew it.
What’s not to like?
A Solution in Search of a Problem
When Republicans took over the White House, they had the power to nominate a Republican, Ajit Pai, to be the new chairman of the FCC. A former associate counsel for Verizon, Pai joined the FCC in 2007 and was in the minority under the Obama presidency. He was especially outspoken about his opposition to net neutrality and Wheeler’s “common carrier” remedy.
Now that Pai is chairman, it’s time for a little payback.
But why would Pai, presumably a conservative, oppose net neutrality? It brings to mind Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), whose place on the political spectrum is to the right of Attila the Hun, who posted on Facebook in November 2014 that, in essence, net neutrality was in the same boat as the dreaded Obamacare because it involved the government.
The comments from Cruz followers were ferocious in their support for net neutrality. To paraphrase, many started with, “I like, you, Ted, but…”
Conservative Orthodoxy Trumps Common Sense
Judging by the Cruz commenters, it would seem that young conservatives and libertarians accept that government playing referee is a fair price to be paid for a free and open internet.
This isn’t the only issue in which conservative orthodoxy gets in the way of common sense. In the tax bill currently before Congress, Republicans insist on rewarding their corporate patrons, who are awash with cash, by lowering their tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. It won’t help anyone except for the shareholders of those companies.
Are Pai and his Republican cohorts throwing the same bouquets to Verizon, Comcast and AT&T?
It’s now crunch time. Last May 18, the FCC Republican majority under Ajit Pai voted to phase out the net neutrality protections put in place in the Obama administration.
The vote was just the beginning of a lengthy rule-making process in which the FCC posted its proposal on its website and solicited public comments. The comment period is now closed. A decision is expected by the end of the year.
The process is complicated by the actions of certain individual states, fearing an unfavorable decision, crafting their own net neutrality rules.
The public comments in favor of net neutrality have had to compete with bots (allegedly with the names of dead people) flooding the system with anti-neutrality nonsense. Pai had declared publicly that “the number of comments is not as important as the content of those comments.”
The FCC is set to vote on its proposal to overturn net neutrality on Dec. 14. Although the vote is probably a fait accompli, it wouldn’t hurt to contact the FCC. You never know.