The title says it all.

So does this screen shot from a recent Twitter conversation I had on Net Neutrality with a “clicktavist” (pictured at right).

Paraphrasing, me (@Polisoniccom): What do you want from Net Neutrality / Title II?  Clicktavist (@RavenWolf_Yula): To hobble corporations.  Me: That’s not the FCC’s job.

Net Neutrality as killer corporate killer app.

Net Neutrality as killer, corporate-hobbling app.

This type of exchange on Twitter is par for the course.  In fact, it’s tame in comparison to others I’ve seen.  Basically, they follow the radical group Free Press and its anti-corporate, er, I mean, pro-Net Neutrality talking points.

Free Press’ co-founder, Robert McChesney, set the ball rolling with these gems:

  • “Any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself.” (The U.S. Media Reform Movement – Monthly Review, September 15, 2008)
  • “There is no real answer (to the U.S. economic crisis) but to remove brick by brick the capitalist system itself, rebuilding the entire society on socialist principles.” (A New New Deal under Obama? With John Bellamy Foster – Monthly Review, December 21, 2008)
  • “Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism. It is impossible to conceive of a better world with a media system that remains under the thumb of Wall Street and Madison Avenue, under the thumb of the owning class.” (Journalism, Democracy, … and Class Struggle – Monthly Review, November 2000)
  • “At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. We are not at that point yet. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.” (Media Capitalism, the State and 21st Century Media Democracy Struggles: An Interview with Robert McChesney – The Bullet Socialist Project, August 9, 2009)
  • “What we want to have in the U.S. and in every society is an Internet that is not private property, but a public utility. We want an Internet where you don’t have to have a password and that you don’t pay a penny to use. It is your right to use the Internet.” (Media Capitalism, the State and 21st Century Media Democracy Struggles: An Interview with Robert McChesney – The Bullet Socialist Project, August 9, 2009)
  • “Advertising is the voice of capital. We need to do whatever we can to limit capitalist propaganda, regulate it, minimize it, and perhaps even eliminate it. The fight against hyper-commercialism becomes especially pronounced in the era of digital communications.” (Media Capitalism, the State, and 21st Century Media Democracy Struggles: An Interview with Robert McChesney – The Bullet Socialist Project, September 8, 2009)

It seems knee-capping corporations is as much the end-game for “Net Neutrality” as is “protecting” the open Internet, as this video further amplifies (below).

Hobbling corporations isn’t the FCC’s job.  If the Commission thinks it is, it is time to fire it.

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No one loves their public utilities. They’re slow, unresponsive to change, and only just good enough for government work, which isn’t saying much.

If you’d talk to progressives working in the Internet space, though, you’d hear a different story. They think that utilities, and the 19th Century regulation used to control them, are the greatest things since sliced bread.  You see, they want to make private U.S. broadband providers public utilities, and radical groups like Free Press, Public Knowledge and MoveOn.org have pulled out all of the stops to get the Federal Communications Commission to do so.

Why?

Clearly, the Internet is one of the greatest communications tools ever. And broadband providers – such as cable, fiber, DSL, wireless, satellite and Wi-Fi operators – allow users to access the Internet.  Though broadband has exploded with growth and innovation these past 10 years, the Left believes the Internet is simply too important to be left to corporate access providers to develop it any further.

U4In their view, the FCC should turn all 1,700 private U.S broadband providers into public utilities to “protect” the Internet’s “openness” and development. Not only would this indenture them to government servitude, it would make Internet access a general-purpose tool where all who use it – from the biggest corporations down to the Average Joe – move at the same “fair” speed, without “discrimination,” no one ahead of the other.

Good idea, eh?

Well, not really.

First of all, the Internet exploded precisely because regulators decided not to regulate it like a utility. Each year, U.S. broadband providers pour approximately $70 billion into upgrading Internet access, totaling well over $1 trillion of investment since 1996. Consequently, choice abounds.  And that choice doubles in speed and quality every three years without increase in price.  Can your water, gas, electricity providers do that?  Didn’t think so.  That’s because they’re regulated to death as utilities.

Second, the Left wants to flat-out ban so-called “discrimination” of content, applications, services and devices, making everyone suffer with the same undifferentiated Internet experience that treats all traffic “equally,” without any priority. But we should want reasonable discrimination. It is a well-accepted business practice employed in every segment of our economy to improve consumer welfare. It means providers can differentiate their offerings from their competitors, bringing new value to Internet users and the ecosystem. Reasonable discrimination actually makes the Internet better.  Banning it would end a constantly evolving Internet.

Finally, we’ve tried utility regulation before with our communications laws, and all it succeeded in doing was delaying by decades the rollout of cellular, digital and other important communications infrastructure to “protect” the provision of plain old telephone service. Similarly, broadband infrastructure advancements would decelerate because utility regulation greatly limits profit and flexibility, dampening incentives to invest and innovate.  Moreover, once such regulation has been unleashed on broadband providers, regulators will eventually use that to regulate well beyond, to companies like Google and Netflix. This, of course, would further devastate the entire Internet ecosystem.  Having to ask permission to innovate and invest would slow the Internet’s development down to government speed.

When has that ever been good?

The Internet is the very opposite of government speed, or just good enough for government work.  It does not ask for permission to innovate, help consumers, or change society.  It just does it and waits for us to decide.  This has resulted in tremendous consumer and societal benefit.  Not just for Americans, but for the entire world, too. It will stay that way to the extent it remains unencumbered by government-mandated utility regulation.

No one loves their utilities. Why put the Internet in with such terrible company?

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Dear Mr. Hunt,

A recent story in the Washington Post (“Inside the collapse of the FCC’s digital infrastructure – and the rush to save it,” by Nancy Scola) reports that in the run up to meet the Federal Communications Commission’s September 15th deadline for Net Neutrality Reply Comments, FCC staff and “grass-roots activists” supporting the rule worked actively and exclusively to ensure not only that their comments made it into the agency, but also that the most positive public relations spin could be put on the number of activists’ comments for the media at large.  If the Post’s report is accurate, MediaFreedom believes this “unusual collaboration” undermines the Commission’s open rulemaking process, revealing in it a bias that defeats the needed reason and factual underpinning for a lawful rule to result.  To this end, MediaFreedom urges the Office of Inspector General to look into the matter to ensure that no fraud, waste or abuse in FCC programs and operations has occurred as a result of these actions.

In pertinent part, the Post report notes:

“…[The] number [of comments coming in to the FCC] that would eventually spit out of that creaky online machine mattered a great deal to those [on the left] trying to show how invested the mainstream American public had become in the net neutrality debate.  Holmes Wilson is the co-founder and co-director of Fight for the Future, one of the handful of networked activist groups leading the charge [for Title II regulations].”

 “The final count was extremely important to us,” Wilson says. “When you have a protest, the first thing anyone says is, ‘How many people came?’”

 …The ability to funnel large numbers of people through online channels of civic engagement has become a sign of tangible power.  Marvin Ammori is a lawyer and activist who sits on the board of some of the [progressive left] advocacy groups involved in the open Internet fight.

 “It’s a political question,” says Ammori, “how you count these numbers.”

 …[As the September 15th deadline for reply comments came closer, a] trail of e-mails that shot back and forth between activists and the agency around that mid-September deadline revealed an unusual collaboration. All involved saw the deluge coming, and activists — planning a one-day “Internet Slowdown” that called on the public to contact the FCC — reached out to the bureaucrats to see how they might help keep the system afloat…

 …While the agency was piecing together those measures, the advocates saw that overnight their backlog had grown to three-quarters of a million comments. But by midnight, only a fraction had been formally filed into ECFS. So they asked the agency to pass along any press inquiries to the advocacy groups so that they could relay their unofficial but accurate count.

 But press management is an imperfect science, and word that the total number of file comments was an underwhelming 100,000 found its way out of the FCC press shop. “That was wrong,” Ammori, the activist-lawyer, says of the tally. “Very wrong.” That figure, though, was printed and reprinted widely on Thursday, including — to the particular annoyance of the organizers — in the New Yorker. Feeling that they’d held back filing some of their batched comments because of the FCC’s guidance, the advocates were dismayed.

To ease minds and soothe tensions, the advocates and bureaucrats worked together to correct the record. Shortly after 1 p.m. Sept. 11, the FCC press secretary sent out a carefully crafted tweet: “Due to high number of comments received in last 24 hours, we do not yet have an official comment count. Will provide update ASAP.”

 The activists kept up their bulk submission of comments over the weekend, and by the following Monday, all were in. Near the end of the day on Tuesday, Sept. 16, the FCC spokesperson sent reporters a note with a final, official tally: some 3.7 million comments. A whopping 828,000 came in during just the last few days of the activists’ push… (All emphasis / bolds added)

It is clear from these excerpts that an extraordinary amount of FCC coordination, support and resources were devoted to the activists to help get their (and apparently the FCC’s) message out to the public.  If one took the report entirely at face value, one could be forgiven for believing that only the activists cared or commented on this issue before the agency.  Of course, that is not the whole truth of the matter.

The FCC Open Internet rulemaking will affect the prospective legal rights of others.  In accord with the Administrative Procedure Act, the Commission invited comments from all affected parties and the public at large to develop a reasoned rationale for its rule. Nearly four million comments poured into the Commission during the Comment and Reply phases of the rulemaking process.  Almost one million of those came from parties who stand against the agency’s proposed regulations.  Yet, from the Post’s article, it appears the Commission’s staff worked to advance and promote only one side of this picture – that is, those pushing for Title II-oriented regulations, and nothing else.

The one million voices against the rule were not offered any assistance to get their side of the story out.  Moreover, in “correcting the record” it seems FCC staff were willfully blind to the fact that a majority of the filings in the closing phase of the Reply Comments process came from those who did not agree with the FCC’s position.

In choosing to count only the activists’ numbers and go no further to find and publicize the true tally, the FCC purposely disenfranchised almost one-million opposing voices, simply wishing them away because they did not comport with a “narrative” that supported the agency’s position.  In doing so, the Commission’s actions say: The polls are closed and your “vote” will not be counted.  Ironically, they seem to reflect the very same type of unreasonable discrimination, which the agency seeks to “protect” the Internet from in its proposed rule.

This appearance of bias undermines the agency’s credibility, as well as its disinterested search for solutions from concerned citizens, to protect the public interest.  It limits debate, not promotes it.  Why comment when it appears that dissent will not be considered in any meaningful way? More to the point, if significant portions of the debate have been automatically red-lined as of no import, how can any resulting rule be considered “reasoned,” and thus lawful, when viewed by a court of law?

It is already bad enough that the FCC is about to impose controversial and dubious rules that lack clear and unambiguous congressional authority, essentially regulating through loophole an immense swath of our economy.  This land grab is not an exhibit of an expert agency in action for the public.  Rather, it is a political exercise, a Star Chamber. The public interest deserves better than “regulatory decisions” made by a de facto Commissioners Marvin Ammori and Holmes Wilson. “Unusual collaborations,” which put the fox in charge of the hen house are not due process.

We respectfully urge the Office of Inspector General to look into this matter to ensure that the public interest was not harmed by the reported actions.

Thanks,

Mike Wendy – Director, MediaFreedom.org

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Dear Chairman Wheeler:

We write to express our concern that the FCC is losing what should be one of the greatest assets of any independent agency: its perceived objectivity. As an independent, expert agency, the FCC has an obligation to weigh arguments and evidence evenly before making decisions. Increasingly, however, FCC staff appear to be disregarding arguments that do not fit a preconceived agenda; and worse, they may be actively manipulating media coverage around controversial issues. As a bipartisan, collegial body, the FCC is supposed to reach decisions through the active participation of all five Commissioners, even when they do not all agree. Instead, the FCC appears to be engaging in the worst aspects of partisan politics, embracing the very sort of bias and prejudgment in agency decisionmaking that Congress sought to prevent in enacting the Administrative Procedure Act

Among the most troubling examples of the FCC’s lack of objectivity was last week’s The Washington Post report that FCC staff worked exclusively with activists urging the FCC to “reclassify” broadband as a Title II common carrier in an “unusual collaboration” to distort media coverage of the comments filed on the FCC’s proposed net neutrality rules.[1] We do not object to the FCC staff helping ensure that petition drive comments were processed quickly after the failure of the FCC’s antiquated Electronic Comment Filing System. FCC staff were even-handed and helpful in advising some of our own organizations on alternative ways to submit comments (e.g., by email). But certain FCC staffers crossed a line if, as the Post’s report implies, they helped spin media coverage in favor of those pushing the FCC to invoke Title II.

Specifically, the Post reports that advocates and FCC staff worked together to “correct the record” for the media. Initial reports from the FCC’s struggling ECFS database showed “underwhelming” comment turnout from pro-Title II activists, which would have dampened the political impact of their highly effective media campaign to push Title II.[2] The Post reports that, “To ease minds and soothe tensions, the advocates and bureaucrats worked together to correct the record.” (Of course, “advocates” here means only those supporting Title II.) While the story doesn’t clarify exactly what that involved, it notes that Title II advocates “asked the agency to pass along any press inquiries to the advocacy groups so that they could relay their unofficial but accurate count.” What, exactly, did this involve?[3]

Objectively “correcting” the record would have meant ensuring that media reported that over 900,000 reply comments were filed against Title II — more than the principal pro-regulation reply comment effort, “Battle For the Net,” filed in support of it (777,364). American Commitment, Americans for Prosperity, the Center for Individual Freedom, and TechFreedom all ran campaign websites, but none received any assistance from FCC staff in managing media relations for their respective efforts. Nor, apparently, did the FCC refer journalists to other major organizations that have opposed Title II, including the NAACP, the Minority Media Telecommunications Council, and the Communications Workers of America. In the days immediately before the FCC’s comment deadline, at least one senior FCC staffer tweeted about the pro-Title II #InternetSlowdown campaign,[4] but made no such mention of the anti-Title II #DontBreakTheNet and #StopInternetRegulation campaigns.

The result has been a completely lopsided media narrative describing a groundswell of public support for Title II, with little, if any, mention of widespread support for maintaining the bipartisan consensus against regulating the Internet under Title II. Tellingly, the Post report makes no mention of the nearly one million comments filed against Title II — and the pattern is similar in other news stories.

We do not expect FCC staff to do media outreach on behalf of any commenter, but if FCC staff are going to attempt to “correct the record,” they must do so objectively. Taking sides on a controversial debate like this would send precisely the wrong signal: that the FCC has already reached a conclusion and that the notice-and-comment rulemaking process is merely political theater. It is particularly ironic that the FCC should play favorites regarding a rulemaking that is justified as ensuring a level playing field among web companies.

More fundamentally, attempting to spin comment counts in any direction — or even seeming to do so — contributes to a growing and troubling perception that the FCC’s notice-and-comment rulemakings are becoming informal plebiscites and trite popularity contests rather than expert-driven attempts to strike the right balance on highly complex issues. Marvin Ammori, apparent leader of the pro-Title II campaign, put it best when he told The Post, “It’s a political question, how you count these numbers.”[5] Of course it is. But Congress created the FCC precisely to rise above such machinations.

Unfortunately, this is far from an isolated incident; it seems to confirm a larger pattern of increasing politicization in the FCC’s operations, including, in this proceeding alone:

  • Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai’s office reports that, ahead of the initial vote on the Open Internet NPRM in May, your office refused to return phone calls from his office and shared a new draft of the proposal only with the Democratic commissioners.
  • You ignored calls by Pai and Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to delay issuing that NPRM by a month to allow time for more careful consideration, resulting in a breakneck series of deadlines this summer on related issues, including the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger; the AT&T/DirecTV merger; preemption petitions regarding municipal broadband, to which the Commission responded with unprecedented speed, allowing an unusually short window for consideration; and the FCC’s Section 706(b) report. In the end, the FCC’s comment system could not even handle the volume of comments filed.

An appendix to this letter details other similar recent process failures that prompted objections from both Republican and Democratic commissioners. These, among other actions, have contributed to a growing perception outside the agency regarding your management that was best summarized by Arthur Esch, your former colleague, in a September 29 New York Times profile of you: “He’s not a democracy guy. You do not have a vote. He’s a decision maker.”[6] Only by making impartial decisions in light of the best available evidence, and refraining from giving special treatment to certain interests, can you restore public confidence in the office of FCC Chairman — especially after the highly politicized chairmanship of former Chairman Kevin Martin.[7]

With respect, we would remind you that Congress and the President appointed you to be chairman of a collegial, bipartisan commission whose decisions are supposed to be grounded in special expertise, not politics. We can separate our disagreements over policy outcomes from the processes by which key decisions about the future of the Internet and telecommunications are made. We hope you, and your staff, will attempt to do the same throughout the remainder of your chairmanship.

Sincerely,

TechFreedom

American Commitment

Center for Boundless Innovation in Technology

Center for Individual Freedom

Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights

Competitive Enterprise Institute

FreedomWorks

International Center for Law & Economics

Less Government

MediaFreedom

Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Bartlett Cleland, Madery Bridge Associates

________________

Appendix  [click to continue…]

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Video: Say No to Muni Broadband, with Scott Cleland

September 30, 2014

Among other nonsense, the FCC is in the middle of determining whether it should preempt state laws that limit the provision of muni-provided boondoggles, er, broadband.  NetCompetition’s Scott Cleland reminds us why muni networks are such a bad thing for taxpayers and competition.

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Video: Even Supporters Don’t Understand Title II Net Neutrality

September 25, 2014

This video shows a representative from Namecheap as he tries to describe Title II Net Neutrality, and the need for it.  Not surprisingly – because even the professional FCC lobbyists can’t tell you exactly what Title II Net Neutrality is – he stumbles along, and then finally comes to the conclusion that the entire Internet […]

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Slippery Net Neutrality

September 20, 2014

The concept known as Net Neutrality is essentially a creature of the Left – a vessel into which it has poured all of its societal or other angst, framing a “problem” – which purposely has no defined edges – and then creating a “solution” to “fix” it.  If one has to generalize, Net Neutrality means […]

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NOI for Tom Wheeler – 5 Net Neutrality Questions

September 11, 2014

Since mid-May reports have circulated that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is under such immense pressure from the Left to regulate the Internet via FDR-era rules that he’s about to squirt out a diamond from one of his orifices. Consequently, to reduce some of that pressure, especially as the Net Neutrality comment period deadline approaches, he’s […]

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At Least 60% of FCC Net Neutrality Comments Robo-Filings Says New Study

September 3, 2014

Progressive-oriented Sunlight Foundation came out with a deep-dive of the approximately one million Net Neutrality rulemaking comments sent to the FCC in July. In its new study, Sunlight asks: “What can we learn from 800,00 public comments on the FCC’s net neutrality plan?” Well, of the 800,000 comments it examined, Sunlight estimates that fewer than […]

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MediaFreedom Urges FCC to Reject Muni-Broadband Preemption Petitions

August 30, 2014

In late July, Chattanooga broadband provider, EPB, and the City of Wilson, North Carolina, asked the FCC to preempt their state laws, which limit where they can serve customers. This matter was put up for public comment by the FCC, and MediaFreedom filed the attached comments with the agency on Friday. In this filing, we […]

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