Posted By JerriCook on November 14, 2014
I’m not sure how, but the issue of internet regulation has somehow become a partisan question, with dutiful minions from both major political parties —and a few from the fringe —taking up sides and decrying the ignorance or evil of the other side. Here’s an idea. Let’s take some of the emotion out of this. One of the first rules of conflict resolution is to determine who benefits from the conflict in the first place, because someone always benefits. Here, the beneficiaries of the conflict are major political action committees of every stripe that are conjuring up Orwellian images of compliance or restrictions (depending on who’s doing the conjuring) in order to raise money. Not surprising, because in the end, Net Neutrality is about money.
The latest decision by a three-judge panel from the D.C. Court of Appeals has once again brought out the emotional lunacy that politicians and their financiers so desperately rely on. So, let’s understand just what the court did and didn’t do. The case, Verizon v. FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION came before the court to answer one question: Does the FCC have the authority to regulate broadband providers as common carriers? The answer is a resounding no.
The FCC has the authority to regulate the basic transmission of information over the internet, phone line, or any other means that affects interstate commerce. However, the FCC does not have the authority to regulate services that process that same information. These services include services necessary to connect users to the internet, otherwise known as Internet Service Providers (ISP). ISPs, especially the larger ones, have taken advantage of this technical loophole in 47 U.S.C., otherwise known as the Telecommunications Act to charge users more for the bandwidth they consume. However, because bandwidth is not boundless, in addition to charging more for bandwidth, ISPs also began restricting or slowing some users’ connections in order to allow bigger users, like Netflix and YouTube, more streaming power.
While many consumers have a “you get what you pay for” attitude about increased pricing for increased bandwidth use, it’s the specter of out-and-out political and religious censorship that worries some who support the regulation of the Internet under the common carrier standard. And with good reason. In 2007, AT&T blocked part of a streaming concert when the artist tried to make a political statement against then President George W. Bush. In that same year, Verizon Wireless cut off the ability of users to send and receive text messages from NARAL, a group that supports ending the lives of the unborn. The list of blatant censorship incidents by ISPs is well documented by the ACLU.
The argument for regulation is a good one based on the behavior of some of the communication giants, and unless Congress is willing to deal with the thug-like behavior of these and other communication giants, the possibility (some might even argue probability) of abuse is large. However, forcing private companies to provide the same level of bandwidth to every user is as impractical as it is dubious. It would be like forcing cell phone companies to provide Cadillac service to everyone for one price. It would put them out of business, and in a hurry. While this issue is likely to once again present itself to a federal court, it can certainly be dealt with by Congress more efficiently. However, given the politicization of the issue by wingnuts on both sides, any action by Congress promises to be mired in petty personal politics. The same is true of any action taken by the Executive Branch.
Like it or not, the American people are going to have to deal with the very real moral and legal issues that accompany the rise of communication technology. From access to privacy, the questions surrounding the internet seem to incite heated debate, but not about the topic itself. Instead, the issue is wrapped in political platitudes and Facebook memes meant to stir the uninformed, but politically loyal masses to donate money to the fight. But the fight is really against us, on all fronts.
The answer isn’t all that complicated. Set a standard of conduct for ISPs and enforce it. The next time you hear or see someone comment that Net Neutrality is a Democrat or Republican conspiracy, ask yourself if you want the FCC, a government agency, to control the internet. If you answer no, then you’re going to have to help come up with a workable solution instead of posting Facebook memes and blindly accepting the narratives of paid politicos.