There is a must-read article in the New York Times about the rapidly shifting politics with net neutrality, high-speed Internet services, and the regulatory ability of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The article:
"... a simple fight over big government versus small has put Republicans in the awkward position of aligning themselves with the cable giants, among the most maligned industries in the country, against the sad Netflix viewer... politics on the so-called net neutrality issue have shifted so much that House and Senate Republicans are circulating legislation that would ostensibly do exactly what the president wants: ban the blocking or “throttling” of web traffic and prohibit the creation of paid “fast lanes” for Internet content providers willing to pay for faster delivery..."
Why the change? The GOP realizes it has been on the wrong side of the net neutrality issue. So, in order to appear as supporting net neutrality, they have proposed legislation that eliminates the capability of the FCC to regulate telecommunications companies:
"... it would also prohibit the Federal Communications Commission from issuing regulations to achieve those [net neutrality] goals — the approach favored by the Obama administration and most Internet companies."
Some consumers might call this hard-ball politics. Others might say this is trying to pull a fast one. Football fans might call it a flea-flicker play, where the quarterback hands the ball to a running back who runs, stops, turns around, and laterals the ball back to the quarterback who then throws a long pass down field. The tactic's goal is to fool the defense. Now, House and Senate Republicans are trying to fool the public, and especially net neutrality advocates. I call this a bait-and-switch ploy:
"... Senator John Thune, the South Dakota Republican who now heads the commerce committee, hopes to have legislation ready the following week — ahead of the F.C.C.’s February meeting..."
Yes, Senator Thune and his cronies are trying to pull a fast one. Thune's proposed legislation supports net neutrality, prohibits paid prioritization (e.g., publishers pay fees to have their content delivered fastest), prevents fast lanes, prevents the FCC from categorizing Internet access as a utility, and prevents throttling but at a high cost: removes the FCC authority to regulate.
Previously, Republicans were willing to shut down the government to get their way, Now, they are willing to blow up the telecommunications regulatory system to get their way, regardless of the consequences. What consequences? Keep reading.
In a written statement released yesterday before today's hearings with the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, retail giant Amazon criticized the GOP-proposed legislation (Adobe PDF). First, Amazon explained:
"... now there is widespread acceptance of the need for government action to ensure Internet openness; now policymakers need only decide how to ensure that the Internet openness of net neutrality is maintained and effective. Amazon currently supports net neutrality through the Internet Association, as well as directly and through other organizations... we take our position from our customers’ – consumers’ – point of view. Consumers want to keep the fundamental openness of the Internet and the choice it provides..."
Sensible approach: putting consumers first. Amazon recognizes that without consumers, it would not have a business. Politicians and the FCC need to adopt this mindset. Without consumers who vote, they wouldn't be in office.
Next, Amazon explained why the proposed legislation is flawed and needs to be modified:
"... the draft clearly acknowledges that throttling and paid prioritization must be banned; that net neutrality protections must apply to wireless, as well as wireline; and that providers must disclose their practices. Of course, for these excellent principles of Internet openness to be meaningful to consumers, they need to be effective. In at least three instances, however, the Discussion Draft could be interpreted to undermine that effectiveness, so the bill should be modified accordingly to ensure that the Internet openness of net neutrality is maintained and effective."
And, there are loopholes in the proposed legislation. Bad ones:
"... in Subsection (d), while requiring “Consumer Choice,” the bill would explicitly exempt “specialized services” from that requirement. This could create a huge loophole if, for example, specialized services involved the prioritization of some content and services, just like proscribed “paid prioritization,” the only difference being that the content or service prioritized came from the broadband Internet access service provider itself, instead of a third party... it is not obvious what part of the bill might be construed as limiting consumer choice. Almost explicitly, therefore, the bill acknowledges that the provision of such specialized services would defeat consumer choice and the Internet openness of net neutrality, despite the limitations of Subsection (d)(2)."
Amazon saw another problem with the proposed legislation:
"... the Discussion Draft bill is unclear or silent on an important point of clarification: Which parts of a broadband Internet access service provider’s network are covered by the net neutrality protections? As indicated earlier, a consumer will not care where in her service provider’s network any interference with net neutrality occurs, only whether it occurs..."
"... We believe that the FCC should be empowered to create adequate legal certainty and detail through effective enforcement tools and notice and comment rulemaking. But the Discussion Draft bill would limit the FCC in several ways... it is not necessary to rescind the FCC’s authority under Title II of the Communications Act, as in Subsection (e). Summarily blocking the FCC’s use of existing statutory enforcement authority could leave the agency helpless to address improper behaviors well within its authority under the ceiling created in Subsection (b), and would leave consumers and businesses in the Internet ecosystem without adequate certainty about the FCC’s enforcement..."
So, the proposed legislation is deeply flawed in several areas. It insincerely uses "consumer choice" language, but is about anything but customer choice. The proposed bill should be roundly rejected.
The important messages for net neutrality advocates:
- Recognize the bait-and-switch tactic. The bill says: support net neutrality and give up the store: prevent the FCC from regulating telecommunications corporations.
- Nobody should support a deeply flawed bill. Broadband Internet is critical to so many business and consumer applications, things need to be thought out carefully. This bill seems the result of political maneuvering, not well considered and reasoned.
- No matter what they claim, House and Senate Republicans are still carrying water for the large, corporate broadband providers... at the expense of consumers. If successful, the telecommunications companies' (and their Republican stooges') efforts will keep your monthly Internet bills higher and speeds slower than what consumers get in other countries. This is great for telecommunication companies' profits, and bad for your wallet.
- The proposed legislation does nothing to increase competition. It does nothing to remove the local laws in 19 states that prevent citizens from forming municipal broadband networks to get more affordable and faster high-speed Internet.
- The proposed legislation ensures that the FCC could never reclassify broadband as a utility. As reported previously, consumers in areas of the USA with municipal broadband networks get the best, affordable, and fastest speeds.
- The proposed legislation enables the telecommunications companies to operate as duopolies and/or oligopolies, since many areas of the country consumers have only two or three choices for high-speed Internet services. And, there's no guarantee that after the legislation were approved, the House and Senate won't revisit it and then eliminate net neutrality.
Devious politics. Crony capitalism. Consumer unfriendly.
Will the public fall for this bait-and-switch? I think not. Voters are smart. Hopefully, Democratic officials will fight back vigorously and not run for cover (e.g., do nothing and blame it all on the Republicans, since the GOP controls both the House and Senate).
Every voter, regardless of your politics, should contact your elected officials and demand that they explain what they are doing to lower your monthly broadband bills, not keep both your monthly bills and corporate profits high.
What are your opinions of Thune's proposed legislation? Of the politicians' strategy? What should net neutrality advocates' response be?