Discrimination Is Good for the Internet – There Must Be More!

by Mike Wendy on February 13, 2017

The Democrats and their progressive supporters held a “fake news” event last week to shriek about the new FCC and their fears that the agency will rollback their out-of-touch, FDR-era Net Neutrality law.

At the event, Senator Richard Blumenthal decried:

“Allowing a broadband provider to block or discriminate against certain content providers is not only a threat to the continued success of America’s innovators and job-creators, it is also a danger to free speech—one of the core principles of our democracy—at a time when so many of our First Amendment rights are threatened.”

Let’s get this straight. ISPs aren’t in the business of willy-nilly blocking communications services unless customers want it, reasonable network management calls for it, or if it’s lawful to do so. It’s never been their schtick. The record establishing the Net Neutrality Order is virtually bereft of this behavior, and present “Net Neutrality complaints” lodged at the Commission on blocking are reportedly nonexistent.

What ISPs do want to do is to reasonably curate, discriminate and differentiate their offerings for those purchasing their services. Among other things, that means prioritizing services – like for healthcare, security and entertainment – for willing customers. Such reasonable discrimination was allowed under legacy Title II, natural monopoly regulations – as with Ma Bell’s telephone network. The Net Neutrality Order, however, conveniently reads that out of the new rule, willfully blind to eight decades-worth of communications law precedent.

Though Silicon Valley sure gets a nice subsidy, the law is wholly at odds with practices used in, and demanded by, the broader economy.

The FCC must allow reasonable service discrimination and differentiation for ISPs, benefitting consumers and society.

Reasonable discrimination, differentiation, blocking, priority service, curation, etc. are necessary tools used by every single organization in America to derive benefit for users. The Post Office. Airlines. Supermarkets. Highway system. Utility companies. Schools. Libraries. Newspapers. The entertainment industry. Broadcast TV and radio. Silicon Valley. Etc., etc., etc. They all use these practices. In fact, they could not survive without them.

And, you know what? Free speech has thrived as a result, too.

It is in the interest of people like Senator Blumenthal to conflate positive economic discrimination with negative societal discrimination. He knows they are not the same. But it sure drives headlines and campaign support.

The real questions here are:  What’s reasonable service discrimination and differentiation, and how does law and policy grow that? There should be tons of it at all points in the Internet ecosystem so that consumers and society benefit.

Banning it – as Net Neutrality / Title II has – serves no legitimate purpose other than to be a handout to Silicon Valley and the type of people who hold “fake news” events for harmful laws.

The new FCC must repeal the anti-consumer, economy-bashing law as soon as possible.

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