Free Press Wants to “Save the Internet” by Killing It

by Mike Wendy on June 26, 2014

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Free Press – the “consumer group” that has made a fortune off of the FCC’s needless and endless Net Neutrality push – has enlisted its troops to help it “Save the Internet” by urging the FCC to “reclassify” ISPs as old-fashioned common carriers (a.k.a. telephone companies).

What does that mean – reclassify? Something simple. A silver bullet of sorts for the troops to quickly “understand” and then fight for. To this end, it seems that most recently – as in here, here, here, and here – it means banning all ISP “discrimination” or “fast lanes” of third-party content, apps, services and devices.

It’s a plain-vanilla concept. I mean, how can anyone be for discrimination (no matter that it’s a tool used throughout all sectors of the economy to boost consumer welfare)? So, banning it is an easy sell to the fair play but dull-minded activists whom Free Press and others are exploiting to pressure the FCC toward “real Net Neutrality.”

But, a silver-bullet-and-it’s-all-better doesn’t exist under Free Press’ nonsense, end-all-discrimination standard. The group knows this.  It accidentally let on as much last Monday when its policy counsel, Lauren Wilson, stated (at a poorly-attended National Press Club press conference):

Wilson: “If we reclassify, then the Commission has the authority to make these rules. The Commission has more work to do after it reclassifies, so reclassifying, in and of itself, no, that’s not, boom, it’s done. But, after you reclassify, you create a new NPRM, a new Order, saying under Title II we create these rules. Title II doesn’t hand over the rules. You make your rules based on what Title II does or does not allow.” (Emphasis added)

Wow. What a buzzkill. “So, reclassification ain’t a silver bullet like you’ve repeatedly implied, Free Press?” its troops should be asking of the group.

That’s right.

What does Title II allow? Well, even in the unlikely event that the Commission reclassifies ISPs as common carriers, that regulation has historically allowed carriers to discriminate and/or offer varying classes of service (“fast lanes,” etc.) to third-parties, as long as those practices were not unjust or unreasonable.

And, if you add the Fifth Amendment to this equation – which bars the government from taking private property for a public use without just compensation – there doesn’t seem to be a constitutionally-sound scenario in which the FCC could outright, prophylactically ban so-called “evil,” ISP “discrimination.”

Stated differently – discrimination (and other reasonable practices) is allowed and, in fact, encouraged by the law.

When you strip away all the doublespeak, as well as what groups like Free Press are not saying, reclassification is really shorthand for this: mandated open access of ISP property – at unprofitable, government price-controlled rates – to “competing” third-parties. And this, combined with the full sweep of common carrier regulation, means that ISPs/network providers become mere public utilities, indentured servants to crony bureaucrats, “consumer groups,” and wimpy competitors (but most certainly not consumers).

Sadly, we’ve been here before. The 80-year-old system of common carrier regulation did as much to stifle innovation and harm consumers as anything else because it takes the incentive for network providers to innovate out of the picture.

You won’t hear that from Free Press.

Nor will one hear from Free Press that the same power used to regulate ISPs as common carriers will inevitably be turned against Silicon Valley and its so-called edge to regulate its (presently unregulated) offerings, too. You see, Silicon Valley’s server farms are essentially common carrier switches. Consequently, the long arm of Title II will not let these (and other aspects of the edge) stay free from its clutches. It’s just a matter of time, considering how “essential” we’re told the Internet and all of its pieces are to our daily lives.

Buh-bye broad Internet innovation and the consumer benefit it brings.

The short of all this is: Free Press cannot “Save the Internet” by killing it.  The activists who think they’re being helpful might reconsider their support; they’ve been fibbed to by Free Press and its trillion-dollar benefactors. Righting this wrong, they should aim their silver bullets at the idea of reclassification. A government-controlled Internet via “real Net Neutrality” – which is the actual goal of Free Press – must never see the light of day.

No one benefits when Uncle Sam runs all of the switches. No one, that is, except for government bureaucrats and groups like Free Press.

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