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July 12, 2017

Scheduled Internet Rage Is No Substitute for Sound Policy

 

In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, every day there is a scheduled “Two Minutes Hate” where party members for purely internal political purposes must focus their hatred and anger on the nonexistent threat of “Emmanuel Goldstein” and “The Brotherhood.” In the novel there was also a scheduled summer “Hate Week” for the same purpose.

Today, July 12, will see a real-life mid-summer scheduled day of internet rage against an invented threat. The purpose of today’s day of hate is to build a huge email list and to encourage mass-manufactured comments to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against the commission’s plan to roll back the Obama administration’s late-term (2015) regulatory power grab over wireless and broadband networks.

But a scheduled day of internet rage against a nonexistent threat is no substitute for good policy, especially when the day of hate is based on falsehoods and scaremongering. Let’s take a look.

Claim: “The FCC wants to destroy net neutrality.”

This is false. The FCC wants to undo a regulatory reclassification made by the Obama FCC in 2015, which subjected the internet to massive 1930s-style monopoly regulation far in excess of net neutrality.

Claim: “If they get their way, they’ll allow widespread throttling, blocking, censorship, and extra fees.”

This is also false, but instructive. No internet company thinks that it can please its customers and become more profitable by restricting access to the internet by throttling, blocking or censorship. This is classic scaremongering borne out of an unhinged distrust of capitalism and markets. Companies make money by pleasing customers, not by limiting them.

And even if a company tried to do any of those things, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department have abundant resources to prosecute anti-consumer behavior. It’s not as if somehow our massive federal government is impotent without the FCC’s Title II regulations.

Besides, if these Title II regulations are so critical to the internet, how did the internet manage to make it from birth to today’s maturity without them? The modern internet is 20+ years old, and it made it this far without Title II.

What’s instructive is the “extra fees” bit, which telegraphs the real issue: Companies like Netflix that are responsible for the majority of internet traffic want to use federal regulation to lock in their current business models so they don’t have to invest in the necessary infrastructure to facilitate their own traffic. The real motive behind the campaign is the well-known phenomenon of a company or an industry using regulation to gain an advantage over other competitors or other industries.

As far as real net neutrality is concerned, there is actually quite a bit of consensus forming about what constitutes proper ISP management of networks. But this consensus should be reflected through congressional action, which is how policy is supposed to be made in a representative democracy, not through unelected regulators.

Ignore the Day of Hate against the FCC today. You might even say the protests are “Orwellian.”


 

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