The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to de-regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility, a milestone in de-regulating high-speed Internet service and data delivery in America.
Voting to end so-called “net neutrality,” the commission on a 3-2 party-line vote eschewed the recent rules enacted in 2015 by Barack Obama’s slate at the FCC, which also passed on a 3-2 party-line vote. This means that the regulation of Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) will return to its pre-2015 state. That 2015 ruling reclassified high-speed Internet service as a telecommunications service, instead of an information service, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The three Democrat F.C.C. Commissioners had decided on their own in 2015 that the F.C.C. could regulate the internet.
Prior to casting the deciding vote Thursday, commission chairman Ajit Pai said the F.C.C. was “restoring the light touch framework that governed the internet for most of its existence,” and “helping consumers and promoting competition.” He proclaimed that the internet was not akin to sewer or water services, and that cumbersome regulations would deter the massive investment in infrastructure needed in the coming years to meet our data needs.
The talk surrounding the vote was highly contentious – so much so that the voting session itself was suspended on an emergency basis for bomb-sniffing dogs to sweep the room. Opponents of returning the internet to its less regulated form before Obama’s institution of the utility model waged a scorched earth campaign against these reforms. #NetNeutrality was the tag for all those opposed, and that included heavyweight companies like Netflix and Microsoft, lefty celebrities like Alyssa Milano, and progressive groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL). NARAL tweeted that “there is no reproductive freedom without net neutrality.” If it’s not obvious to you how disallowing government regulations on internet service providers equates to infringements on reproductive freedom, you’re not alone.
Such hysterics did not go unnoticed by those opposed to the institution of government internet controls. #PreppingForNetNeutralityArmageddon was their trolling tag as they demonstrated the hysteria of their opposition by mockingly offering their prescriptions for how to survive in the world after the vote:
I just bought a bunch of stamps before there is a run on them. Letters will be the only way to communicate soon.
— Howard Roark Laughed (@Major_Skidmark) December 14, 2017
FCC Commissioner Brand Carr noted the “apocalyptic rhetoric” before his vote in favor removing the net neutrality provisions:
“As the debate goes on, the claims have gotten more and more outlandish. So let’s be clear. Returning to the legal framework that governed the internet from President Clinton’s pronouncement in 1996 until 2015 is not going to destroy the internet. It is not going to end the internet as we know it. It is not going to kill democracy.”
Choose Your Poison
While wild predictions predominated on social media, serious opponents of change are convinced having the government police ISP’s treatment of data is vital to protect Americans. Protect them from those ISP’s who are in their minds either hostile or indifferent to customers’ needs, as they attempt to wring every last penny of profit from any and every conceivable revenue stream. Among the more popular predictions were that ISP’s would charge customers extra, for instance, to access a rival companies video content, as they predicted Comcast would do to its customers who wished to access Netflix.
Conservatives and libertarians, however, believe that while ISP’s may not have the customers’ best interests in mind, the market forces that allow customers to choose ISP’s do result in their interests aligning. We don’t think the milkman wants to get up at 4:30 for his health; he does it because he wants to make money by delivering what we want – fresh milk. If ever there was a politician that politicized every gear, spoke, and lever of the federal government, it was Barack Obama. So it’s no wonder that large segments of America are skeptical when the government votes to insert itself into their interactions with ISP’s, and in a position to tell those ISP’s how data should be distributed across networks.
Lefties are scared of abuse at the hands of private enterprise, and the Conservatarians are afraid of government stifling innovation at best, and crushing opposition at worst. If Comcast ISP customers are dissatisfied with how Comcast handles the data they wish to transmit or receive, should the government get involved, or should customers vote with their feet like they would with any other service? How one answers that question seems to control how one comes down on net neutrality.
One major component of net neutrality, now extinct, was the rule that ISP’s had to treat all data requests and submissions equally. To those in favor of the Obama rules, this meant that NARAL’s online activities advocating increased access to abortions cannot be throttled or restricted by ISP’s in conservative areas that may be led by those strongly opposed to the message, or to curry favor with like-minded legislators or regulators. To the opposition, it meant that an ISP had to give equal priority to the data transmissions of a seven-year-old girl’s cat frolicking with yarn video, as to that from a surgeon at Sloan-Kettering who is assisting on a live operation overseas via video conferencing.
That kind of telemedicine is rare today, but much of the threat that net neutrality poses is to future technologies. As we gear up societally for a shift to driverless cars, might we want those cars’ communications with traffic control devices to be prioritized over the entertaining videos being watched by its’ occupants?
It seems like most Comcast customers do now or have loathed Comcast for one reason or another, and this author is no exception. Until we can replace our government with less effort than we can our internet service providers, however, it seems wise to keep the former on a shorter leash than the latter.
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