Good news for defenders of Internet freedom. Sorry, Progressives.
As of June 2016, there appeared to be nothing but storm clouds gathering over the issue of Internet liberty. Then, in January, out of nowhere, came a ray of hope…
Whenever you hear the word “neutrality” thrown around by politicians and “experts,” especially when talking about the need for new regulations, you should automatically think “is a myth.”
Conversations about net neutrality can become complex. Writers throw around technical terms, like “traffic shaping” and “over-provisioning.”
Not only that, but articles seem to describe the topic differently. Some refer to net-neutrality laws as “preserving the open Internet,” as if they are defending the present system as it exists now. That sounds like what we want, right?
Others claim the laws are bad because they will benefit large companies at the expense of small ones. Well, wait, that is not what we want…right?
WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY
Wikipedia gives the definition of “net neutrality” like this:
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments regulating the Internet should treat all data on the Internet the same, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.
It provides a specific case as an example of a violation of the net neutrality principle:
A widely cited example of a violation of net neutrality principles was when the Internet service provider Comcast was secretly slowing (colloquially called “throttling”) uploads from peer-to-peer file sharing (P2P) applications by using forged packets.
What that means in practical terms is that Comcast slowed down the speeds of some its users. They were the ones who were uploading and downloading large movies and games on file-sharing networks. Those users tend to be the major consumers of bandwidth. Most people don’t download files that large, or as frequently.
I suspect it follows the 80/20 principle, also called Pareto’s law: 20% of Comcast’s users were consuming 80% of the available bandwidth. The other 80% of its Internet users were probably only consuming 20% of its bandwidth.
The FCC didn’t like this. They censured Comcast. The Republicans on the commission at the time dissented. They disagreed with the FCC’s invasion into Comcast’s business practices.
THE CENTRAL ISSUE: PROPERTY RIGHTS
Net neutrality is a principle invented by a liberal Columbia law professor in 2003. He ran for Lieutenant Governor of New York in 2014 on a progressive campaign against a conservative Democrat. He lost. The New York Times endorsed him, but they’re a sinking ship, too. “The failing NYTimes,” as Trump likes to Tweet. They’ll be gone in 20 years, if not sooner (we can only hope).
The heart of the whole matter comes down to this: private property, and whether the Federal government has the right to interfere with how people use it. If so, when?
The big networks like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast provide a lot of the physical network that much of the Internet traffic uses. It’s their network, their equipment, their miles and miles of fiber optic cables. They paid the expense to bury the cables and install the expensive network gear all over the country.
They then sell access to their network to smaller Internet Services Providers. It’s like building a large office building and renting out space to numerous smaller companies.
YOUR HIGHWAY, DONE MY WAY
Do these large providers have the right to use their networks how they want?
The FCC, backed by Democrats and Progressives, has said no.
They say that the companies must adhere to the rules of “net neutrality” established by the government. They can’t charge more money for those people who use more of their bandwidth, or they can’t slow those people down in order to prevent the majority of their other users from suffering slowdowns.
Whatever the principles may be, in the end you can bet that the consumer will be the one who suffers when any regulation is passed. That’s what government interference into the free market almost always leads to. Unless, that is, they are interfering to enforce contract law. In that case, they are defending basic moral principles against theft of private property.
In the case of net neutrality, the government is violating basic principles against the rightful use of private property.
Beginning in 2015, the FCC began winning court cases in favor of its net-neutrality legislation. This was a blow to liberty. It seemed like the war was over, that free market competition over Internet innovation had been dealt a crippling blow. Wikipedia reports:
On 26 February 2015, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled in favor of net neutrality by reclassifying broadband access as a telecommunications service and thus applying Title II (common carrier) of the Communications Act of 1934 as well as section 706 of the Telecommunications act of 1996 to Internet service providers. On 12 March 2015, the FCC released the specific details of its new net neutrality rule. And on 13 April 2015, the FCC published the final rule on its new regulations. The rule took effect on June 12, 2015.
The private companies tried to fight back. They were squashed by a DC appeals court:
The US Telecom industry argued that “the FCC reclassifying broadband carriers as ‘common carriers’ is an overreach on the part of the FCC”. The challenge sparked “a huge legal battle as cable, telecom and wireless internet providers sued to overturn regulations that they said went far beyond the F.C.C.’s authority and would hurt their businesses.” In June 2016, in an 184-page ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld, by a 2-1 vote, the FCC’s net neutrality rules and the FCC’s determination that broadband access is a public utility, rather than a luxury.
An article in the Washington Post summarized the outcome in plain English:
Now that the FCC has successfully reclassified all Internet providers under different rules, it can begin writing entirely new regulations to shape their behavior. It can also police behavior that it deems unfair. Critics view this as a tremendous power grab. Supporters view this as necessary for protecting consumers from abusive corporate behavior.
In June of 2016, it was all over but the crying. The Internet companies vowed to take their case to the Supreme Court, but after coming out in favor of Obamacare, it’d be unwise to put a lot of faith in their judgment.
MAKING AMERICA GREAT AGAIN
Enter Donald Trump and his historical election during the 2016 Presidential race. He has overturned the old rules of politics. He has stuck his finger in the eye of the Washington Establishment, and his supporters are eating it up.
And why not? The elite have gone untouched for so long that they finally deserve a little pie on their face.
After coming into office, he appointed Ajit Pai as the head of the FCC. Ajit was already a member of the commission, and has been since 2012.
Pai opposes the FCC’s net-neutrality regulation. He opposed the rules it passed in 2015. He used to be a lawyer for Verizon. So Pai understands the issues. And now that he’s in control, he is taking steps to dismantle the FCC’s overreaching arm into the free market.
GOOD DEALS FOR CONSUMERS
Earlier in the month, he closed an open investigation into some competitive plans that AT&T and Verizon had come up with.
Normally, as a cell phone user you have to pay for all your data. Data plans are expensive, and the modern internet is data intensive. Watching a couple Youtube videos will pretty much make short work of most data plans.
But Verizon and AT&T came up with deals for their customers: if you subscribe to their video (TV) service, then you can stream it from your phone without taking a hit against your data plan.
Now, doesn’t that sound like a pretty good deal to you? If you have a cellular plan with AT&T and you also sign up for DirecTV, then you can steam all the DirecTV video you want over your cellular line without it counting against your data.
What a deal!
AN OPTIMISTIC FUTURE
But the FCC under the Obama administration was suspicious of this kind of plan. They figured there must be something wrong with it. The consumers didn’t need deals that good.
But now, under the new FCC commissioner, that investigation has simply been closed. Consumers dodged a bullet. Not only that, but earlier this week Mr. Pai relaxed some of the regulations, which will save the Internet providers lots of headache and expense over needless paperwork.
Pai is probably just getting started. Let’s hope so.
While the horizons were looking bleak for consumer choice and quality just a few months ago, with the new administration it appears the storm clouds are starting to break up.
At least for the next four years.