With news that AT&T plans to offer zero-rated content through its DirecTV Now offering, Net Neutrality zealots have come unhinged. According to one hyperbolic lede, “AT&T just declared war on an open internet (and us).”

Sure it has.

Those supporting the FCC’s dubious Open Internet Order believe that the new service crosses the line and violates (the purposely wiggly idea known as) Net Neutrality, unfairly discriminating against…

…the world.

So, with AT&T’s announcement, we’re at war (I guess).

But I hope the anti-zero-rating radicals are prepared for a big donnybrook, because customers like zero-rated / free data plans like DirecTV Now. In fact, I can’t see those plans going away any time soon.

According to Wikipedia:

“Zero-rating (also called toll-free data or sponsored data) is the practice of mobile network operators (MNO), mobile virtual network operators (MVNO), and Internet service providers (ISP) not to charge end customers for data used by specific applications or internet services through their network.”

As it applies to DirecTV Now, its “cable” content won’t count against the data caps of AT&T’s wireless subscribers, giving DirecTV (which is owned by AT&T) so-called “privileged access” to AT&T customers. “Consumer activists” feel this sets up a “nightmare scenario” wherein AT&T will seek to create the same type of access for non-affiliated content providers, essentially establishing a toll that would price “the little guy” out of the ballpark, undermining his voice and the “open Internet.”

Net Neuties want all zero-rating banned. Period. The FCC has thus far refrained from prohibiting the practice.

Let’s hope the Commision does not heed their specious entreaties.

Zero-rating is a private subsidy system, using positive discrimination to differentiate offerings in the marketplace. The content provider picks up the tab for consumers. Many sides benefit: content providers improve chances of customer adoption; consumers get free content; the network grows. This practice has long-been employed in the telecom space – 1-800 numbers are a good example. Further, it’s a tool used in every sector of our economy to derive broad and immense economic benefit for all involved.

The disturbing thing here is that the zealots aren’t concerned about consumer pricing. Heck, even they admit that consumers enjoy the subsidized / free data. They know these plans are popular.

Rather, the real reason that the they demand the FCC to outlaw zero-rating is because they want to control the content streaming over the Net. No speech shall have an advantage over any other. In their eyes, free data is discrimination (as in civil rights). “Diverse, little guy” communications are at stake. So is “democratic voice.” Etc. (content), etc. (content), etc. (content).

They bemoan that all this diverse speech could be shoved aside because of “corporate greed,” making it “impossible” for the little guy to speak on the same playing field as well-heeled competitors.

Consequently, it’s OK to render useless ISPs’ private property via government-mandated Net Neutrality – broadly neutering their ability to define how they want to serve content to their customers – because an “open Internet” (a content-oriented concept) is so important that censorship is justified. The laws of economics, differentiation, and competition must be suspended. Consumers simply aren’t smart enough to know what’s good for them.

“We will force feed y’all your digital broccoli. Open up and start chewin’.”

But how does this accord with the First Amendment, which demands that it is the right of the communications provider – in this case the ISP – to determine how content streams over its network, not Uncle Sam?

That’s correct, it doesn’t. It can’t.

_______

The subsidy abides, man. Consumers demand it. ISPs should be allowed to offer the communications services they see fit, free from Net Neutrality censors.

Activists pushing for FCC-mandated Net Neutrality should sleep with one eye open because if there’s any war here, it’s them working through those needless rules to ensure that the Internet stays as consumer-unfriendly as possible. “Pitchforks” are comin’ for them if they get their way and the FCC prohibits these popular offerings.

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I’ve been watching with bemusement the alt-left’s freak-out over the Trump appointment of market-based economist Mark Jamison to co-chair the FCC transition team. In particular, one article – FCC Vetter Jamison: Do We Need an FCC? – has their undies in a big wad.

In brief, Jamison suggests that in a time when communications competition thrives and numerous alternatives are available, better ways exist to “regulate” the marketplace instead of the bloated, duplicative, sclerotic and captured FCC.

This is hardly radical, or new.

The market-based community has been writing about these ideas for well-over a decade. The PFF-led DACA Project, organized in 2005, is a notable illustration. These ideas are predicated on the belief that the advance of technology, industry peer “policing,” competition, and present consumer enforcement tools are better suited to address real, not conjectured, harm and marketplace failure than is prophylactic regulation (like Net Neutrality).

As it relates to the Commission, this could mean that the FTC would address competition and consumer protection matters; the NTIA spectrum management; and the states deployment and universal access issues, among other things. Sure, the FCC would have a role, but it would be circumscribed, being centered on public safety and technical / interference matters instead of its struggling-for-a-mission job it now plays.

The deregulatory trajectory is clear. For over four decades, Congressional law and policy, FCC regulation, and court decisions have moved to unshackle the communications marketplace from the silos of the 1934 Communications Act. This is not to mention broader Congressional law and its tax policy, which has worked to remove burdens on the telephone system and Internet users; and its laws which have sought to keep the regulatory state as small, and small business-friendly, as it can be.

That ain’t radical. That’s the trend. Those are the facts.

Quite frankly, it’s the alt-left – hogtied by Google, the Ford Foundation, and Soros’ Open Society programs – which is the outlier. What’s especially ironic and troubling is that the alt-lefties have hijacked this deregulatory progress, and through hook, crook and partisan theft power-grabbed the Internet with out-of-date FDR-era / 19th Century railroad regulation, which, if they were still in control, would never go away.

Jamison’s viewpoint represents the will of the people and the tide of history. The alt-left, a disenfranchising fraud.

Who needs the FCC when it’s nothing more than a Ponzi scheme for 1%-er “progressives” (a.k.a. thieves)? Here’s to hoping the next FCC changes that racket.

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Telecoms have long practiced “discrimination” when serving their customers’ varying needs. This is a good thing, though. Volume discounts, 1-800 numbers, flat-rate vs. metered pricing, business vs. residential pricing, and city vs. rural pricing, among others, are all examples of how phone companies sought to differ their offerings for their customers.

Still, many are confused by the conflation of the word’s two main definitions. The aforementioned illustrations are examples of positive discrimination, which is widely regarded as a boon to commerce and society. Positive discrimination is a legitimate business tool used by every sector of our economy to serve diverse customer bases, while also recovering costs needed to maintain and grow their businesses. When average people hear the word discrimination, however, they often reflexively think in terms of racism, sexism, or all the other ideological “isms,” which seek to divide people and cultures, not unite them. This type of discrimination is a societal phenomenon, and bears no relation to the business tool itself.

In the Part Three of our continuing series “A Regulator’s Guide to Zero Rating and Free Data,” Aalborg University’s Roslyn Layton, and Victoria University’s Bronwyn Howell discuss the importance of positive discrimination in helping companies differentiate their offerings for heterogeneous markets. This practice has especial importance to the Zero Rating and Free Data debate; the two practices are forms of price discrimination, which Layton and Howell believe can go far to help spread the deployment and adoption of broadband services.

(Accompanying paper can be seen here)

Evaluating the Consequences of Zero-Rating:
Guidance for Regulators and Adjudicators, Part 3 – Price Discrimination
from Mike Wendy on Vimeo.

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All systems / platforms that facilitate communications act to curate the underlying communications and environments of those systems.

What types of systems are we talking about?

Well, they can be an organizing structure as “simple” as your home and your parents’ constant “guidance” of your actions. Or, the act of shepherding comments that result from a blog post you’ve written. Or, the presentation of art hanging on the walls of a gallery. Whatever the platform is, the First Amendment instructs that that curation generally remains the domain of the system’s operator, not the U.S. government; it is a protected free speech and associative right.

Unless, of course, you operate an ISP, in which case your system is subject to a growing list of prior restraint restrictions and regulations known as Net Neutrality.

Weirdly, even public platforms have curation rights – like, for example, our public schools, libraries, and museums. Each of these platforms has numerous, well-worn tools to discriminate, edit and subsidize the communications within their ambit, actively curating them to bring about desired results.

But the FCC says no-can-do for ISPs. As the outgoing FCC views it, ISPs are actually public systems of locomotion, not private communications networks. In other words, the present Commission has read communications out of these communications companies, determining that ISPs are no more than…

…railroads, indentured indefinitely to serve the public at the sole discretion of unelected bureaucrats. Moreover, Net Neutrality requires that they don’t stray far from those tracks.

One hopes the next FCC sees it differently. The First Amendment – which the Commission has ignored – certainly does.

We no longer live in a time when only one state-approved communications provider exists for a given service territory. Then, when communications networks could not easily be duplicated, it may have made sense to limit what a telephone company could do with its property and what services it could offer.

Today, diversified, silo-busting choice abounds. Technology, competition and consumer demand have torn up the rails.

ISPs want to do what all other communications systems do – that is, curate their property as they see fit. They’re not interested in controlling or changing the underlying communications of their customers. Rather, they want to use the relationships they have built to provide their customers with useful information and innovative new services to make them happy. Not only is this good for their end-users, it fosters healthy and sustainable growth of their networks and the broader Internet ecosystem, too.

Reasonable practices employed in every other sector of our economy – such as zero-rating, sponsored services, prioritized partnerships, blocking, throttling, and use of customer data – must all be on the table again without the fear that the FCC can arbitrarily clawback and punish so-called “bad actors” for their alleged (and unknowable) transgressions.

In short, ISPs should be able to manage their property free from government censorship / prior restraint. To this end, I hope the incoming FCC is an active curator and edits the old FCC’s Net Neutrality law, as well as other stultifying regulations, off of the books.

Consumers, the Internet ecosystem, and society would all benefit immensely from this better read.

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Net Neutrality: Pass a Rule without Bipartisan Support, It’s Gonna’ Be Repealed

November 10, 2016

A number of stories from the “independent” press, as well as action alerts from “consumer” groups, have cropped up, all caterwauling about the possibility that incoming president Donald Trump – aided by a new Commission and support from GOP majorities in the House and the Senate – will repeal the FCC’s Net Neutrality rules. Cries […]

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Statement: Time to Roll Back Years of Deleterious Communications Policy – Hooray!

November 9, 2016

Alexandria, VA, November 9, 2016 – MediaFreedom is encouraged by last night’s election results. They are a strong repudiation of eight years of failed and deleterious policy, which has been jammed down the throats of Americans in the service of powerful crony constituencies, not average citizens. Let the peaceful change of the guard begin. To […]

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AT&T / Time Warner Merger Presents Another Awesome Opportunity for the FCC to Censor Private Communications

November 1, 2016

In the short time since it was announced late last month, a lot has already been speculated about the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner. With its “application” to regulatory authorities outstanding, a bunch of questions persist. One that continually comes up is – if the FCC has some role in reviewing the transaction […]

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Statement: FCC’s New Privacy Rules Will Undermine the Internet Economy

October 27, 2016

The following statement may be attributed to Mike Wendy, President of MediaFreedom.org: Alexandria, VA, October 27, 2016 – Today the FCC voted to break the Internet’s data economy by imposing needless rules on how ISPs use customer data. Needless, because for over two decades the Internet has been guided by the successful FTC privacy regime. […]

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Video: A Regulator’s Guide to Zero Rating and Free Data (Pt. 2)

October 24, 2016

Isn’t pricing all data the same the fairest way to provide Internet access? An argument in the zero rating and differential pricing debate is that allowing some data to be free is discriminatory and harmful. The following video reviews that assertion in light of international examples. (Accompanying paper can be seen here) One of the […]

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FCC “Authored” AT&T-Time Warner Merger – It Must Be Approved, Without Extortive Condition

October 23, 2016

The following statement may be attributed to Mike Wendy, President of MediaFreedom.org: Alexandria, VA, October 23, 2016 – “News reports have it that AT&T will acquire content powerhouse Time Warner. In a regulatory environment that punishes infrastructure investment by pushing FCC-mandated Net Neutrality, why would AT&T not? By the FCC’s reckoning, content is king, not […]

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