Calls For Return Of Net Neutrality Are Hypocrisy At Its Worst

Published April 6, 2018

The Internet Association (IA), a lobbyist organization that includes Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, and other Silicon Valley big businesses, is pressuring U.S. senators to use Congress’ authority under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to undo the Federal Communications Commission’s December 2017 approval of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order.

CRA, a bill signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, allows Congress to serve as a check on rules issued by government agencies. To repeal an executive branch rule under CRA, a majority of lawmakers in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate must register their legislative disapproval within 60 days of a new rule’s enactment.

Although the Internet Association’s wishes are unlikely to be fulfilled, the trade group’s call for a return to heavy-handed bureaucratic tampering is hypocritical.

In the letter sent to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., IA President Michael Beckerman wrote that FCC regulations prohibiting paid prioritization were needed to protect the little guy against big businesses, such as those IA represents.

“Americans rely on and deserve the lasting certainty of an open internet enshrined in the U.S. Code,” Beckerman wrote. “Strong net neutrality rules are necessitated by, among other factors, the lack of competition in the broadband service market.”

“Net neutrality” regulation is another name for former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s 2015 power grab, which sought to justify taking regulatory control of the internet using Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934. Wheeler’s move unjustly — and possibly illegally — put five unelected government regulators between consumers and internet service providers.

The fight over net neutrality was never about digital egalitarianism, despite what advocates say. As used by big government boosters, “net neutrality” is shorthand for “increase the government’s power over the internet.”

A paid prioritization agreement is an agreement between a content provider or an edge provider and a network owner to allow the provider’s data to travel on less-congested routes in exchange for an agreed-upon fee. When networks become clogged during high-traffic times, prioritization agreements allow consumers to receive requested data faster.

All kinds of data travel over the internet, but some data types are more tolerant of delays or temporary congestion. Receiving the data bits in the wrong order or at the wrong time can cause distortions, stutters, and other playback problems, because the recipient has to wait for the bits to arrive and then spend processing power rearranging them.

If they choose to do so, edge providers, including Netflix, would be allowed to pay ISPs a little bit extra to have their content bits delivered to consumers across the ISP’s network faster than some other edge provider.

Putting aside the obvious benefits of ensuring quicker, higher-quality data delivery for consumers, some of IA’s members have a hypocritical past when it comes to paid prioritization. In 2010, Google and Verizon announced a set of guidelines for FCC internet governance that would have allowed ISPs to engage in paid prioritization.

Leaving the door open to paid prioritization prompted business reporter Ryan Singel to dub Google “a carrier-humping, net neutrality surrender monkey.”

Four years later, Google joined the fight for more government regulation, calling for Title II regulation for others, but apparently not itself.

In 2016, Facebook began considering a zero-rating program for U.S. users after launching a similar program in India, yet Facebook’s army of lobbyists leads the fight to prohibit paid prioritization and zero-rating. By treating some kinds of data differently than other kinds, zero-rating violates the big government principles for which IA fights.

Netflix’s net neutrality hypocrisy is also on display for anyone with a sense of history. In May 2017, Chief Executive Reed Hastings told Recode reporter Tony Room fighting for more regulations was “not our primary battle at this point” and “not narrowly important to us.”

Later, in September 2017, Netflix rolled out a special deal with T-Mobile, a mobile phone company serving as an ISP for many people, zero-rating streaming video for customers.

Viewed another way, however, net neutrality supporters may not be as hypocritical as they seem at first blush. Despite individual flip-flops, supporters of this anti-consumer policy have always called for more government regulations, but only when it suits their interests.

Big businesses and big government are often in a symbiotic relationship, as industries and bureaucrats conspire to increase the cost of regulatory compliance. Facebook, Google, Netflix, and most other big businesses ultimately care not about regulatory burdens, because they can afford the armies of lawyers needed to do the necessary paperwork.

Reducing the cost and quantity of stifling, consumer-unfriendly regulations on the books, as FCC’s Ajit Pai did in December 2017 and will hopefully continue to do, gets government out of the way, paving the way for improved services for the little guy about whom these tech behemoths claim to worry.

[Originally Published at Investor’s Business Daily]