I've been talking about the dangers of Net Neutrality and the neo-Marxist FCC for some time at RedState. However events are picking up speed, especially with Obamacare now out of the way. It's time I laid everything back out from the beginning.
There are two major plans that the Obama FCC, headed by Chairman Julius Genachowski, has in store for us. Net Neutrality and a National Broadband Plan. Net Neutrality is the more misleading issue, though, and has the greater external push behind it, so the majority of the talk on the Internet is about that.
They're both dangerous, though. Here's why.
Net Neutrality is a term that has floated around in the technical community for years. It's a harmless concept, but I won't go into it because it has nothing to do with Net Neutrality as a regulatory practice. Seriously. The Neo-Marxists at Free Press and the self-seeking bosses at Google have perverted that tech-pleasing label into something vastly different.
Here's what it is in practice: Chairman Genachowski made a landmark speech in which he declared that the FCC would enforce two new, never before used principles on the Internet: neutrality and transparency.
Neutrality: Here the FCC is claiming the authority to regulate how the Internet routes packets. "Packets" are the small pieces of data that everything is broken up into when it is sent over the Internet: email, web pages, images, videos, Skype phone calls, everything. Packets are like postcards: They contain data glued to the to and from addresses, in a manner of speaking. "Routing" is how the Internet passes those packets from computer to computer until they make it to their destination.
For years now, with tools like Quality of Service flagging, the Internet has been moving toward a smarter ability to route packets on the basis of what they contain, how time-sensitive they are and, yes, how much their senders and recipients were willing to pay for higher priority use of the resources. Smarter routing is more and more important as we use the Internet in more varied, more important, and more bandwidth-intensive ways.
Also, by making special arrangements and deals, ISPs and Internet companies can get together and offer services that otherwise might not be available to users. Even Net Neutrality proponent Google participates in non-neutral arrangements both abroad such as in the Indian soccer deal on Youtube, as well as at home when Google promises to abide by any T-Mobile restrictions on Android-based phones, even those restrictions which are non-neutral on the part of T-Mobile as an ISP. Freedom of enterprise helps Americans because the innovation enables us to have more services and options available to us. We need those options to remain, and that freedom to continue.
However Genachowski and the Obama FCC are placing these kinds of sensible cost-cutting and efficiency-gaining innovations in jeopardy with their talk of heavy-handed government regulation of the industry. The Internet has flourished since it came out from the thumb of government control when it was the ARPAnet, and became the free-wheeling marketplace it is today. Clearly, that scares people who want government to be in control of things.
And it's total control they want, too. Because the second principle Genachowski asked for, "transparency," doesn't mean transparency of government. No, it means that the government is to claim the right to have access to every router in America, every switch, and every other piece of hardware that makes the Internet go. Public or Private, the FCC wants to be able to snoop on how it runs, to be able to control how it runs.
Does that scare you? It should. When you connect to the Internet, your home computer network (even if it's just one computer) is now on the Internet. The Internet is not like a public road. It's a vast series of private networks, all connected together. Government wants control over the whole ball of yarn, how everyone configures and runs their own private computers routing the packets of the Internet.
That control will have one immediate impact: The FCC will be picking winners and losers on the Internet, which is why Google is 100% behind this effort. Google will be a winner, thanks in no small part to its close ties with the Obama administration through Google CEO and Obama advisor Eric Schmidt, while those who invest in the capital of the Internet, the wires that criss-cross the country and the planet, will lose. If you look at any of the literature put out by the pro-Net Neutrality forces, you'll see plenty of villification of ISPs, AT&T in particular.
The hope of the Net Neutrality left is that you'll forget that today's AT&T isn't the huge monopolist of old, big and hated by many Americans. No, that AT&T is gone, and what is now called AT&T is actually the scrappy little Cingular, a company comparable in market capitalization to Internet firms like Google and Microsoft (and in fact Cingular/AT&T's a bit smaller).
Of course, such class warfare is old hat to a little left-wing organization called Free Press. Co-founded by a man named Robert McChesney, the organization I believe is best expressed as neo-Marxist. While the original Marxists wanted control of the means of production of goods, today the groups like Free Press want the state to control the means of production of information, as ours is increasing an information-driven economy. Free Press traditionally has sought tight state controls over television and radio, but now they have turned their attention to the Internet. They even have a front group for that purpose, called Save the Internet.
Save the Internet is innocuous looking at first. They take full advantage both major deceptions of the Net Neutrality movement. First, they make you think this is all a harmless little bit of technocracy, and not a power grab. In fact they've used that to trick some rightys into thinking that without Net Neutrality, ISPs might censor content. In fact it's just the opposite: It's only if Net Neutrality comes into effect that the censors of the left will even have the power to control the Internet.
Phase one, Net Neutrality, includes no plans to regulate content, just routing. But just as the FCC regulates content on television and radio, most famously in the case of the Janet Jackson Super Bowl show, so too will it be able to regulate content on the Internet should Net Neutrality be the law of the land.
The fight has already begun to prevent it, though. Comcast has taken the FCC to court, arguing that the FCC's current reaches into Internet regulation go beyond the statutory powers the FCC has been granted. In fact, those who watch this industry closely tell me that the federal courts at this point are almost sure to rule in Comcast's favor.
Genachowski has a plan though. It's one you may have heard of before: Deem and pass. The backup plan the FCC has, in the event that the courts rule that the FCC no longer has the authority to regulate information services on the Internet, is to deem that ISPs are no longer information providers, and then re-pass the same regulations that the courts just threw out, then pass Net Neutrality on top of that. Once that happens, the government will be taking over another sixth of the economy.
Verizon is taking a leading role against the new deem and pass (demonpass?), and AT&T agrees, calling upon the Congress to take up these issues rather than leaving the FCC to expand beyond its legal bounds to do these things on its own. Of course, Democrats lack the votes for Net Neutrality, so it's easy to see why nothing's happened on that front.
We have to stop it, though. If ISPs are hindered, then the very foundation of the Internet will be hindered. The Internet's backbone must continue to grow and to innovate as needed to withstand the ever-growing traffic burden we put on it, and no regulatory framework can keep up with how fast the Internet is changing. The market and competition will stamp out any hostile behavior faster than the government ever could, and without even any distortions or government-chosen winners and losers.
In particular, the coming wave of wireless, high-speed Internet access is going to rock the foundations of the broadband market. Sprint is already deploying its 4G WiMax network. When AT&T and Verizon counter with their 4G LTE networks, cable and DSL Internet will feel unprecedented pressure to deliver the best service to their customers for the lowest price. Unfettered technological advancement will save the day, not government. As Reagan put it, "government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem."
Ultimately, the goal of neo-Marxists like McChesney and Free Press is to have Single Payer Internet, with all the central government control and lack of freedom that the comparison with Single Payer Socialized Medicine would imply. Just as the "Public Option" for medicine was described as a "right" by the Democrats, so too do the Free Press people want Internet access to be a "right," owned, operated, and controlled by the government. The UK has its doctors and hospitals controlled by the National Health Service, and McChesney would have our Internet under the control of a National Internet Service.
Phase 1 of Single Payer Internet is Net Neutrality, which establishes the baseline of FCC authority over the Internet. Phase 2 is the National Broadband Plan. To continue the Obamacare comparison, the goal of the Plan is to get "universal coverage." Even if you live in the middle of nowhere, in a place that's far too expensive to wire up, even though the technology is right around the corner for wireless Internet to come at high speed, the FCC neo-Marxists want to say everyone has a right to wired Internet access. And guess what will pay for it?
That's right, you and I will pay for it with new taxes. For phones we already pay a "universal service" tax. The FCC wants to expand that to high speed Internet connections, thus, an Internet Tax. This is a tax that would never see a single Congressional vote, because the FCC would apply it all on its own with the authority vested in it by deem-and-pass Net Neutrality.
On top of that, prices will go up if the National Broadband Plan becomes reality. Your Internet bill at home could go up 25%.
And again, innovation will suffer further. Once the FCC starts dictating control over even the set top boxes your cable providers hand out to you, and after they've already taken control over routing on the Internet, truly there will be few or no ways for Internet service to get better in America without a game of Mother May I. Just think: In 10 years maybe even Iraq would have better Internet access than we'd have, should all this come about.
Of course, just as with Net Neutrality's two big lies, the National Broadband Plan has a big lie behind it. Namely, the claim is that America "lags behind" the rest of the world in high-speed Internet access, and the problem is that there isn't enough government involved yet. Once you stop laughing when given this argument, ask the neo-Marxist questioning you to adjust the broadband statistics for demographics and geography. Countries like Japan and the Netherlands have better Internet access per person not because their governments are working better, but because they are smaller, more densely populated countries. America will always have a different profile of Internet access as long as Americans are free to live anywhere we want on the fruited plain, whether in an apartment in a big city, on a farm on the plain, or in a cabin in the mountains.
It's the same reason that American Internet access varies from Europe and Asia, that our need for the automobile varies from the rest of the world. We're spread out, and we value our freedom to be spread out. And just as you can't run public transit to every little suburb and rural area, so too can't you immediately and cheaply get the best Internet access out to everyone at the same time. Higher costs, delayed implementations. These are facts of geography, and no amount of FCC regulation can fix that.
I hope this has been a useful summary of what the FCC has planned for us and our Internet in the coming months. It's harder to fight an unelected, unaccountable regulatory agency than it is a Congressional action, but we can try. We're the people and we will be heard.