Thursday 20 November 2014

Who Trusts This Government to Regulate the Internet?

The principle of net neutrality is easy to understand and support; to treat the delivery all data equally. This has been the status quo. Works great. Few oppose that, but supporting the principle of net neutrality is not the same thing as supporting the government's plan to enforce that principle.

The alleged problem that the government claims needs fixing is that Internet service providers (ISPs) want to charge different rates to websites for different levels of data usage, often referred to as fast lanes. Simply put, ISPs want the opposite of net neutrality and the corporate-run FCC supports this plan.

The New York Times reported in April:

The Federal Communications Commission said on Wednesday that it would propose new rules that allow companies like Disney, Google or Netflix to pay Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon for special, faster lanes to send video and other content to their customers.

The proposed changes would affect what is known as net neutrality — the idea that no providers of legal Internet content should face discrimination in providing offerings to consumers, and that users should have equal access to see any legal content they choose.

The proposal comes three months after a federal appeals court struck down, for the second time, agency rules intended to guarantee a free and open Internet.
It's important to note that very few consumers currently have problems accessing the Internet. Smartphone and home access is affordable and sufficiently fast in most areas, and free public access in cafes and libraries is widespread.

So, in practical terms, there is no problem with the Internet that needs fixing, just a threat to the principle of equal treatment of data. A threat perpetuated by the FCC which now seems to be a red herring to create the excuse for regulating the Internet.

In a classic good cop/bad cop, Obama came out last week to oppose his own agency's fast lane plan and offered his solution to protect net neutrality by regulating the ISPs like public utilities.

"The time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do," President Obama said. "To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies."

The argument is that government needs to regulate the Internet to keep it "free and open", and the FCC needs to classify mega ISPs as "common carriers" to prevent them from becoming private monopolies.

As usual, the establishment is framing the solution as two simple choices -- either support predatory corporations or support government regulations.

Here's a great video explaining the potential problem of fast lanes for data. Note that the only solution mentioned is what became Obama's proposal:

Many Internet activists hailed Obama as a man of the people for taking a stand against greedy corporations by supporting "net neutrality."

How quickly they forget that together Comcast and Time Warner gave Obama over $750,000 for his 2012 campaign. Add in AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and other ISPs and Obama got more from this handful of companies than his public salary for his entire 4-year term. It's so cute that Americans still believe Obama is working for them.

And you've heard the term "regulatory capture" right?
Regulatory capture is a form of political corruption that occurs when aregulatory agency, created to act in the public interest, instead advances the commercial or special concerns of interest groups that dominate the industry or sector it is charged with regulating.
It's no mystery whose interests Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the FCC, serves as a former cable and wireless lobbyist.

Tom Wheeler according to Wiki:
Thomas Edgar Wheeler is the current Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.He was appointed by President Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in November 2013. Prior to working at the FCC, Wheeler worked as a venture capitalist and lobbyist for the cable and wireless industry, with positions including President of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association (CTIA).
It doesn't get more revolving-door cronyism than that. Wheeler feeds the "problem" by supporting ISP fast lanes to provoke the desired solution -- entrenching private companies as a price-fixing public-private cartel.

Let's imagine for a moment that the government does nothing. And by nothing, I mean no new regulations and to stop blocking new ISPs from entering the market with ridiculous protectionism regulations. What's the worst thing that could happen?

The fear is that corporations may take advantage of their consolidated market share by reducing speeds and raising prices. First, this won't happen if other companies are allowed to compete, but it's all but guaranteed they won't be able to compete if ISPs are turned into public utilities.

But let's assume Elon Musk's plan or Google Fiber won't be able to offer better, faster, cheaper Internet access than current providers in the free market, and prices continue to go up and services decline. Does anyone really believe customers will put up with that or that innovators won't come up with alternatives? There will be far fewer alternatives if government regulates Internet access like radio or telephone companies.

Yet, I don't really care either way because techies are already finding ways around that as well. In the late 1980s AT&T enjoyed a near monopoly on long-distance phone service which was made completely obsolete less than two decades later by the Internet. Now it's free to call anywhere in the world.

Similarly, developments in peer-to-peer networking, I2P and the "Outernet" will make accessing the Internet free or nearly free in the near future regardless of what's decided by corporations or the government.

In conclusion, I'm not criticizing those who support the principle of net neutrality, because I support it too. However, I am criticizing everyone who thinks government regulation will be for the good of the public.

Trust the FCC to regulate the Internet like you trust the NSA to only spy abroad and you get exactly what you deserve.

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