A lot of the Net Neutrality debate has been colored by special interest spin, which basically states that the matter is an easy-peasy, regulatory no-brainer that seeks only to “preserve the Internet” as it is without harming network providers, their shareholders, or Americans wanting innovative Internet services. This has taken on added importance, with the FCC poised (or not) to make a crucial regulatory decision on Net Neutrality as early as this week.
“You’re not talking about applying new, onerous regulations on companies and asking them to comply with a bunch of red tape…You’re essentially preserving the status quo.”
This is essentially hooey.
If you looked at the group’s recent filing before the FCC, you’d see a whole different story. Instead of easy-peasy, what they’re actually advocating is full-on, Title II regulation – i.e., 19th Century rules for 21st Century communications networks. It is a road fraught with regulatory capture and Kafkaesque madness, all designed, we’re told, to “protect” the already working Internet from future crisis.
Notes the group before the FCC:
“Broadly speaking, Title II of the Communications Act lays out several key obligations that Congress has deemed critical for two-way communications networks: nondiscrimination, affordable access, interconnection, competition, and consumer protection. In moving to a Title II framework, the Commission must not forbear from applying the sections of the Act that promote these basic objectives. Thus, at a minimum, the Commission must apply section 201, 202, 208, 222, 251(a), 255, and 256 of the Act to all broadband service providers. To facilitate interconnection and competition, it should also retain section 214’s oversight over service discontinuances and preserve its ability to apply the unbundling provisions of section 251(b) and (c).”
Love the “at a minimum” line.
Presently, the Internet runs with little or no direct, government regulation. The Free Press, however, urges a radical reverse of the status quo by calling for more than a small handful of weighty ideas, which include:
- Reclassification of the underlying transmission element of broadband as a common carrier service under Title II of the Communications Act.
- Section 201 – allowing the imposition by the Commission of “reasonable” price, practice, interconnection and service controls.
- Section 202 – enabling the Commission to forbid carriers from “unreasonably” discriminating in charges, services, practices, classification, etc. against others.
- Section 208 – giving private individuals the right to sue common carriers for anything done or omitted, which could be reasonably interpreted as against the Communications Act.
- Section 214 – forbidding carriers from discontinuing, reducing or changing service to a community without permission from the FCC.
- Section 222 – creating a duty of carriers to protect the privacy of customer information.
- Section 251(a), (b) and (c) – compelling forced access and unbundling of an incumbent provider’s services to competitors, and to provide such access at reasonable / good faith terms or through state-approved arbitration (as per Section 252).
- Section 255 – compelling access to broadband for persons with disabilities, if readily achievable.
- Section 256 – ordering the Commission to provide for the oversight of network planning and the interconnection of public networks, services and devices to each other.
Putting these 19th Century regulations into service also means that the private property expectations of network providers – their 5th Amendment rights – as well as their speech rights – their 1st Amendment Rights – get restricted, too.
How’s that for easy-peasy?
The Free Press and others on the Professional Left want to return to the good ole’ days of innovation-killing regulation. And the network providers just want to be left alone to serve consumers the best way they know how – with good content, services and products at good prices.
Who knows what the FCC wants?
They’re rumored to be working toward imposing some variant of the Free Press’ Net Neutrality framework – or whatever you want to call this mess – on network providers before year’s end. Of course, they might also decide that American jobs are more important, and choose instead to work with the new Congress toward a more sensible approach to “protect” the Internet.
Regardless, I guess my main point here is this – we have two roads we can go down. One’s called the real status quo, which means little regulation, and a whole lot of upside innovation, as proven daily on the Internet. If consumer harm truly rears its ugly head (as opposed to mere speculation), then the marketplace and Uncle Sam have all the tools they need to protect the “average Joe.”
Or, we can go down the “kill the evil corporation” route – the faux status quo.
Tweets @sethmobley, a “voice” ostensibly simpatico with the Free Press:
“Seriously folks, new #netneutrality rules = protections from a corporate takeover of the internet. NOT a takeover by @FCC. Simple as that.”
It ain’t as “simple as that.”
Any Title II power taken by the FCC where it did not previously exist opens the door to thousands of pages of red tape, something that the Internet marketplace has never had before. Nondiscrimination requirements; price controls; quality of service, type / placement / removal of service controls; competitive forced access requirements; and lesser 1st and 5th Amendment rights, among other restrictions, are not the status quo for Internet providers, contrary to the assertions of Free Press.
The Internet has grown precisely because these onerous regulations have been absent, and the marketplace has de facto (instead of de jure) Net Neutrality. That’s the real status quo – and, quite simply, that’s worth preserving.