Columns / Discourse / January 24, 2018

The Diagnosis: Response to “The Federal Communications Commission did nothing wrong”

Joey, I have to say quite frankly that I think your argument, as I understand it, is flawed at a very fundamental level. You adopt the view that the 2015 net neutrality regulations have limited the ability of companies to choose what data to favor, essentially stifling competition which would otherwise result in a vast array of quality products for consumers. It is, for lack of a better term, an argument for the free market. However, I think in the process of making this argument you have missed the primary and most disturbing element of the repeal. Let us concede, for the sake of argument, that a free market among ISPs and among companies in general would indeed result in a higher quality of service (this, in my opinion, is a highly disputable view). However, even if we concede that, the fact of the matter is that the repeal came about as the result of market special interest infiltrating a regulatory government institution. Big Telecom, quite frankly, has used every means of lobbying to ensure that their own interests, and not the interests of the public, are the primary concern of the FCC. You can’t get more blatant than Ajit Pai, the poster boy for repeal, who formerly represented Verizon Communications and for whom he is still clearly a lapdog. This is not a free market, even in its most idealized and romanticized form.

You discuss how many companies would be forced to further invest in ISPs to make sure their data is not throttled during the delivery process. “Blatant blocking and the discrimination of data is not censoring any ideas nor is it targeting any person.” Except that it can be. In a country where market interest, political interest and media interest are severely intertwined it is an awful leap of faith to assume that if you give big corporations the means by which to commit consumer abuse, they won’t do it simply as an act of altruism to their consumers. Recently, we have seen the consumer abuse of “planned obsolescence” committed by Apple, which was long known as an open secret among consumers. Yet they go unpunished, their consumers are still loyal and the baby steps they’ve taken towards “transparency” are but PR lip service to save their public image. How is the selective delivery of data, backed by internal special interest and reinforced through fluctuating and inflated product price not the perfect backdrop to undermine a free internet?

I also take issue with your example of T-Mobile’s introduction of zero-rating plans. Part of this is that I think it’s a very cherry-picked example of how “competition” results in consumer gain in the form of unlimited data plans. I also think it’s not a particularly relevant case. The U.S. government, as you mentioned, blocked the T-Mobile/AT&T merger on the basis that it was a monopolizing merger; I think everyone would agree this is sensible. However, the introduction of zero-rating models is far from being ubiquitously accepted. In fact, in January of 2017, the FCC reported that some zero-rating models are “unreasonably discriminating in favor of select downstream service providers, especially their own affiliates.” This investigation might have been able to have gone further, if Verizon lapdog Ajit Pai hadn’t prematurely closed the investigation not long after their findings. Free market, indeed.

You argue that “The internet we grew up with will continue to be the internet we have today.” I’m guessing that you’re referring to the model of internet pre-Obama era regulation, but that neglects the fact that those regulations were put into place to preserve the open and free nature of that internet. As the world continues to globalize and the internet becomes more and more a social necessity of connection, it is a priority that the democratic and public nature upon which the internet previously operated is preserved. And you don’t get that when you give Big Telecom the means by which to strangle it.


Matt Milewski

Tags:  FCC Internet net neutrality

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1 Comment

Jan 24, 2018

Great response.

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