The President has decided to heed the message voters gave to the Democratic Party last week and will now work with Republicans to implement a common-sense policy agenda that includes a reasonable approach to Internet bandwidth questions currently in front of the FCC.
Ha! No. After his outburst on immigration this morning – that he’ll pass it by executive order if Congress doesn’t pass it’s own version before years end (which he’ll probably veto anyway) – Barack Obama decided to announce, while in China of all places, that he intends to control your Internet, which is great news, if you’re a fan of how the government typically runs, well, anything. Of course, the FCC, which is handling the policy, is an independent organization that the President cannot control unless he’s hired his own Comcast lobbyist, but that seems to make absolutely no difference as far as he’s concerned.
In a detailed statement and video, Mr. Obama called for bright-line rules that ban broadband providers from blocking websites or cutting deals with content companies for better access to consumers, known as paid prioritization.
”We cannot allow Internet service providers to restrict the best access or to pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas,” Mr. Obama said.
Firefox Vice President Johnathan Nightingale says President Obama’s proposal to group broadband providers with phone companies would be a step toward eliminating online “discrimination.”
To achieve that goal, the president called for the FCC to increase its regulatory authority over the broadband industry by placing them in the same category as public utilities or common carriers, such as the old landline phone network.
Since the 1996 Telecommunications Act, as Less Government President Seton Motley notes, the Internet has been classified as Title I utility, which means it’s loosely regulated. Title I doesn’t let the FCC impose “Net Neutrality” restrictions that put everyone on “equal footing: (though, as I suppose you know by now, nothing, where government is concerned, is ever truly equal). Barack Obama is arguing that the Internet, a vast series of tubes that he claims to understand, fits more soundly under the 1934 Telecom Act, which regulates land line phones. Reclassifying it would make it a Title II utility, and will give the government authority to heavily regulate.
Of course, it’s not entirely true that the Internet doesn’t pick winners and losers already. They just happen to call it “network management.” Your email is already prioritized for your convenience by a service provider, most likely Google. SPAM is filtered out on every level. You gravitate towards better and faster messaging systems, social networks and streaming sites. And while it might seem, from President Obama’s statement, that government control of a utility somehow anticipates and prevents outside corporate influence, consider that Netflix can account for 37% of all US Internet traffic at peak times. With the right sway over a regulating body, it could escape having to pay more for the bandwidth it consumes. So the question isn’t really whether there will be an opportunity to pick winners and losers, it’s more along the lines of whether you’d prefer big tech companies or big communications companies setting the rubric. And it’s also not entirely true that there are only two solutions to existing concerns about communications monopolies and bandwidth measures: you don’t have to be for full government regulation of everything, or against all regulation, period. The FCC, DOJ and others all have recourse to handle anti-trust issues, and while Title II is comprehensive, it could still pave the way for agreements that would create the de facto Internet “fast lanes,” the web is melting down about.
Ted Cruz called Net Neutrality the “Obamacare of the Internet” and while hyperbolic, the tag isn’t far from the truth in at least one aspect: like with Obamacare, massive government regulation of an industry isn’t done altruistically, absent the pull of outside forces. Just as Obamacare would never have been passed without a massive kickback agreement that promises a bailout to major insurance companies if the whole scheme fails, Net “Neutrality” probably can’t be implemented without participation from communications and tech companies. But at least, in the end, it all works out in Obama’s failure. According to one analysis, regulating the Internet could make it much easier for the government to tax you for it.
Full government regulation isn’t a “free and open” Internet. But the issue here may not even be the FCC’s regulations at all. In a week where Barack Obama is intent on showing his authority to a new, unfriendly Congress, he’s decided to forgo concerns about his lack of congeniality and declare all-out war wherever possible, including spheres where he has little or no influence. But can make a lot of people very mad.
P.S. In case you’re wondering why I picked Netflix, it’s because it’s founder, Reed Hastings, is a big-time progressive donor in California, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to political causes and Democratic candidates. At least count, he gave around $89,000 to the President’s campaigns. And he won’t expect a reward for his generosity…right?
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