Looks like the Federal Confusion Commission is at it again. They are pushing the Big Lie, big time. It has filtered down from the FCC through compliant media into normal Facebook conversations. And it ain’t pretty.
The other day I got into one of those online discussions with an old friend of mine. He’s conservative. Me, not at all. He was gloating over the Federal Communications Commission’s action in repealing the Net Neutrality rules.
He saw the action as a victory because the power of the FCC to determine what went over the Internet had been taken away. As a conservative, you see, he was afraid that a future FCC might use the Net Neutrality rules put into place in 2015 under President Obama’s FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to ban his type of thinking from being put online. To him, it was a choice between government control and the free market, with the government “gatekeepers” giving or withholding permission to a business to go online. Or something.
I wondered, where would anyone come up with a cockamamie explanation like that which is exactly the opposite of reality? (Not that creating an alternate reality is unusual for Republicans these days.)
The FCC, of course. By becoming the Federal Confusion Commission, the FCC deliberately muddied the waters so that people who have a casual knowledge of the issue would accept the Commission’s actions and reasoning as anti-government, even “populist” gospel.
Forget the intricacies of telecommunications law. This mythical “government control” of the Internet was one of the central arguments the Trump FCC used to justify getting rid of Net Neutrality, aka Internet Equality, aka Internet Freedom. This is the argument that motivates the popular version of the anti-Net Neutrality campaign. (As opposed to the motivations of the big telecom companies like Comcast and Verizon, who stand to make millions and be able to impose their will on the online world.)
The FCC (of whichever abbreviation flavor you choose) couldn’t spread their mischief without some outside amplification. It turns out my friend was taking his cue from Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal. The paper wrote in an editorial, “By effectively deeming the internet a utility, former chairman Tom Wheeler turned the FCC into a political gatekeeper.”
It’s astonishing how far this idiocy trickles down. Kim Komando, the self-described “America’s Digital Goddess” got into the act, posting “’Net Neutrality’ would have given the Federal Government and big tech the power to choose winners and losers online, in an egregiously partisan manner. ‘Net Neutrality’ said nothing about neutrality and everything about governmental control and nepotistic picking of favorites, which is the very opposite of neutrality.”
So let’s make this clear as we can: Net Neutrality is the absence of government gatekeepers. The government never was a “political gatekeeper.”
There is no government permission needed to get online. There never has been. If you want to start a business and reach customers, you can. The FCC and its allies and mouthpieces are creating their own world separate and apart from reality. It’s embarrassing, Orwellian even in its breathtaking dishonesty. “Government control” is just nonsense.
Some years back when I was working on Net Neutrality with a public interest group, we recruited for our coalition some very, very conservative groups. They recognized, as did we, that an open Internet was also their best chance to get their views out there free from governmental interference.
The flip side of “government control” is control by the private sector, a concept designed to appeal to conservatives who trust companies more than they trust the government. But while the government’s Net Neutrality policy is to keep the Internet open, the private sector’s is to maximize profit, regardless of the consequences. The big Internet access carriers can do as they wish because for the most part they have no competition and there is no free market. In a nice bureaucratic shell game, the FCC has decided not to protect the open Internet, abdicating responsibility for policing the carriers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, and instead is leaving matters to the Federal Trade Commission, which is ill-equipped for the task, and to the good will of the companies.
Cynically, the FCC says its requirement for transparency on the part of the big carriers takes the place of enforcement. But without any consumer choice, all transparency means is that you know you are getting screwed and there’s nothing you can do about it.
So instead of a freedom for everyone online enforced by government rule in the public interest, we will have freedom in the private interest for whoever the big telecom companies deign are worth it and who pay for the privilege. Movie studios, Netflix, and other major content players probably can afford whatever ransom the carriers demand in order to guarantee the good carriage they should be getting anyway, But the next Netflix probably can’t, and so won’t emerge or survive. Well-heeled companies get the fast lane. Everybody else, too bad. That’s not the freedom we want for the Internet. It’s not the “freedom” that made the Internet what it is.
The best lesson we can learn and the best warning we have comes from political philosopher Isaiah Berlin: “Freedom for the wolves has often meant death to the sheep.”