WASHINGTON, April 30, 2014– Reports have been circulating that the Obama administration is trying to destroy the internet by killing off net-neutrality. In order to see if the claims check out, you need to meet Tom Wheeler. Just who is Tom Wheeler? If you credit Kathleen Sebelius with the death of the American healthcare system, you could soon credit Wheeler with the death of the internet, or at the very least, as we know it to be now. The Obama administration’s supposed plan is an innate result of crony corporatism and could well be their next big lie.
In November, 2013, President Obama appointed Wheeler to head-up the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). First, never mind that Wheeler raised more than $700,000 for Obama’s two elections.
Second, never mind that 2007 presidential candidate Obama made a solemn promise to protect internet neutrality while visiting Google headquarters in California.
“We have to ensure free and open exchange of information. That starts with an open internet. I will take a backseat to no one in my commitment to network neutrality. Because once providers start to privilege some applications or websites over others then the smaller voices get squeezed out and we all lose. The internet is perhaps the most open network in history, and we have to keep it that way.”
That promise is starting to sound a lot like Obama’s, “If you like your healthcare plan, you can keep your healthcare plan.” You know, the promise that won PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year. Considering the current moves, the administration’s audacity to leave this net-neutrality campaign video posted on their official YouTube account is astonishingly insulting to proponents of net-neutrality.
Finally, never mind that Wheeler is a former cable and internet lobbyist giant. You know, one of those lobbyists that candidate Obama swore to never hire if he was elected. For decades, Wheeler is credited with lobbying for “deregulation” of the industry.
Is it not peculiar Obama would tap a man, the very man that supposedly wanted to deregulate the cable and internet industry, to lead the massive federal bureaucracy that regulates that very industry?
It’s not as strange as one may think. Two types of “small government” lobbyists exist. One truly wants the government out of everything. The other uses the government to deregulate his own business, while simultaneously lobbying for regulation or unfair disadvantages on competitors, which is often done under the guise consumer protectionism, or blatant corporate protectionism [Enter Wheeler].
So, what is net-neutrality or “open internet”? In layman’s terms, net-neutrality is actually a government regulation pressed on internet service providers (ISPs). The regulation seeks to ensure that all ISPs enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and do so without favoring or blocking particular websites and products.
When approached from an economic vantage point, net-neutrality, in its most basic definition, actually inhibits the ISP free-market.
In most cases, those in favor of small government and free-markets would likely champion such deregulation. Meanwhile, those in favor of market regulation point to fears of censorship.
For example, an ISP like Comcast could limit its end-user subscribers’ ability to access BenSwann.com if it wanted to increase traffic (revenue) to a news website the company owned (MSNBC), or it could begin downgrading BenSwann.com’s connection quality if a friendly competitor like TheBlaze.com was willing to pay higher fees to knock out the competition.
The question we must ask is as follows: Does this deregulation actually move towards a more free marketplace? In this case, probably not. These corporatist giants have used the government to secure no bid contracts, geographical subscriber exclusivity and more. The companies are now formed into a government sponsored quasi-monopoly. This is corporatism- not free-market capitalism.
Last January, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FCC could not regulate net-neutrality. According to the Court plurality, the FCC lacked “regulatory jurisdiction” under the provided framework. Appellant Verizon seems to win the day. Net-neutrality is dead.
However, the Court left a loophole by stating that the FCC could rewrite the rules under a more acceptable framework.
“I intend to accept that invitation by proposing rules that will meet the court’s test for preventing improper blocking of and discrimination among Internet traffic, ensuring genuine transparency in how Internet Service Providers manage traffic, and enhancing competition,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Preserving the Internet as an open platform for innovation and expression while providing certainty and predictability in the marketplace is an important responsibility of this agency.”
But wait, isn’t Wheeler against net-neutrality and in favor of helping his old employers out? That’s what many headlines are reporting, and here is where things get confusing.
If one was to read the Verizon v. FCC case, it seems as though the FCC was trying to protect net-neutrality all along, and the Court ruled in favor of the corporations instead. Obama’s promise upheld. Right? After all, the administration can’t necessarily control what the Court says.
However, the Court gave the FCC the go-ahead to write rules under a new framework. Rather than continue and try to protect net-neutrality, reports now insinuate that the administration will re-write the rules to instead favor the giant ISPs Wheeler lobbied on behalf of for decades.
It is possible that the Verizon v. FCC case was a test case. Many such cases have been brought forth throughout the history of the federal judiciary. The goal of a test case is to figure out just what will be tolerated and in what way. Sometimes we know immediately whether or not a case is a test. However, it sometimes takes decades until such cases are exposed. In most all cases, the federal Court system now creates new tests, frameworks, and alternative ways for which a law or rule could be considered constitutional, or in this instance, within regulatory jurisdiction. This is one way the Court illegally legislates from the bench. The goal of such a test case could have been to get the Court to define ways to incorporate corporate protectionism into the FCC rules. Of course, at this time, this is only speculation. However, it would help to explain what happened next.
According to multiple reports, the FCC is playing a game of Orwellian semantics. While the commission maintains it is protecting net-neutrality, the reports show the new rules could kill net-neutrality by allowing ISPs to create a “fast lane internet”. The possibility of fast lane internet being incorporated into the new FCC rules validates the concerns of net-neutrality proponents.
Although the Court has already ruled that the FCC could not enforce net-neutrality, it seems as though Wheeler’s FCC is now attempting to use the Court’s new framework to write such protection into the actual FCC rules. This could allow ISPs an added layer of protection by throwing the weight of federal regulation on top of the Court’s ruling.
The new rules won’t be fully released until mid-May. For now, all is speculation.
Meanwhile, to fill in the gaps while we wait for new rules to be fully released, one should follow the money.
Brian Roberts, Comcast CEO, is good friends with Obama. He is regularly invited to the White House and has been golfing with Obama. In fact, Roberts even served on Obama’s jobs council. Comcast Vice President David Cohen has raised more than $2.2 million for Obama’s elections since 2007. Since 2008, Comcast has spent more than $91.2 million lobbying the government. Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt that Comcast is the parent company of the hard left-leaning Obama mouthpiece known as NBC Universal which operates the MSNBC cable news station.
TIME WARNER CABLE (TWC)
In 2008, Verizon donated more than $218k to Obama’s campaign. In 2012, Verizon donated $224k to Obama’s reelection campaign. Since 2008, Verizon has spent more than $97 million lobbying the government.
Together, these five companies represent the top five ISPs in the country. They also represent Obama’s top donors. With Wheeler driving the FCC and Obama’s top campaign donors pulling the puppet strings, it is hard to imagine the administration actually fighting to maintain net-neutrality.
Government sanctioned neutrality is parallel to government sanctioned equality. Backlash and economic dead weight loss are the byproducts of such interference. With the ensuing death of net-neutrality, many are asking a similar question. Will it kill the internet? Doubtful. However, the government sponsored ISP quasi monopoly makes it too soon to tell.