The debate over “network neutrality” regulation–long limited to telecom nerds and law professors–has gone mainstream. Lefty activist site MoveOn.org screams that big broadband companies are “pushing a law that would end the free and open Internet as we know it.” The hyperbolically named Save the Internet Coalition calls network neutrality “the First Amendment of the Internet,” and warns that abandoning it will “shape the future of the Internet for a generation.”
This language–and the other claims of the “Save the Internet” coalition–are deeply misleading. Network neutrality regulations are nothing like “the First Amendment of the Internet.” In point of fact, they are a new and untested regulatory scheme dreamed up by liberal academics. The advocates of network neutrality regulations are working very hard to create a sense of crisis. One MoveOn email warns of “a radical law that gives giant corporations more control over the Internet.” What they don’t mention is what this “radical law” would do: absolutely nothing. It would leave things precisely as they are today.
Indeed, the cable industry has operated its Internet services without significant FCC oversight for years. After the Supreme Court confirmed that cable modems were exempt from FCC regulations in last year’s Brand X decision, the FCC freed telephone companies from the last vestiges of its failed “line sharing” policy last August. If network neutrality were the linchpin of the Internet, it should have been unraveling over the last year.
Yet oddly enough, the law’s supporters can cite a grand total of four examples of recent abuse of the network neutrality principle. Two of them occurred in Canada, which is generally considered to be outside the jurisdiction of Congress. In a third case, AOL’s email system briefly blocked emails criticizing their use of the GoodMail system, which was most likely a glitch in the company’s spam filters and was quickly corrected. And the fourth and final example involved Madison River, the 17th largest phone company in the U.S. with a whopping 234,000 customers. For comparison purposes, Verizon has almost as many employees as Madison River has customers. And even that lone example turns out not to be much of an argument for new regulations because the FCC had sufficient authority to deal with the complaint.
In other words, the advocates of new regulations have been unable to identify a single example in which the FCC’s authority has been insufficient to deal with discriminatory behavior by American ISPs. But that hasn’t stopped advocates from deploying alarmist rhetoric. An hysterical article in The Nation warned that “civil rights, economic justice, the environment and fair elections” would be threatened without new regulations. The author suggests, bizarrely, that Comcast would be able to give the advertisements they like greater prominence on the user’s screen, seemingly oblivious to the fact that website layouts are controlled by site designers, not ISPs.
The anti-corporate rhetoric is particularly ironic given that the network neutrality campaign is largely bankrolled by large Internet companies like Microsoft and Yahoo, who see it as an opportunity to ensure themselves access to any new infrastructure investments made by broadband ISPs. The pro-regulatory side has crafted a misleading David-and-Goliath narrative surrounding the issue. A March article described the pro-regulatory coalition as a “rag-tag band of consumers and non-profits working to keep the Internet playing field level.” Strangely, Google, eBay, Amazon, and other billion-dollar companies supporting the proposal went unmentioned.
Last month, Rep. Ed Markey warned that “We’re about to break with the entire history of the Internet.” He’s right, but not in the way he intends. The Internet has evolved without significant government oversight for over a decade, and it has never had the kind of comprehensive bureaucratic control envisioned by network neutrality advocates. That has left questions about Internet architecture and evolution in the hands of engineers and entrepreneurs, not lawyers, lobbyists and bureacrats. Network neutrality regulations would change all that, placing decisions about the Internet’s architecture under the control of bureaucrats at the FCC.
Of course, a “Put Bureaucrats in Charge of the Internet” campaign would be unlikely to catch the popular imagination. So instead of making a serious case for their proposal, advocates of new regulations are pretending that it’s opposite day: those who want to maintain the status quo are pushing “radical” laws, a coalition led by Microsoft and Yahoo is a “rag tag band,” and one tiny ISP’s attempt to block Internet voice services is a looming threat to the Internet’s future. There might be good arguments for government regulation of the Internet, but if we’re going to have a meaningful discussion of the idea, we need to start by calling a spade a spade.
Tim Lee is the science and technology editor of Brainwash and the editor at the Show-Me Institute, a Missouri think tank. His website is www.angryblog.org.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kathlyn Ehl
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Jacob Hayutin