I've been grinding out Tech at Night here at RedState for four years as of this week. But I think it may be time for a change of format. It's always been a link-centered post, where I accumulate links to interesting news and commentary, and then try to string it together with a narrative. It turns out that's a lot of work for the amount of traffic I get.
So we're going to try a new format. Instead of covering all the links equally, I'm going to pick one topic to write about more in depth, just trying to cover what the issue is, why it matters, and what I think is the right position. Then I'll just throw in a bunch of interesting links at the end with little to no commentary at all.
Please, submit in the comments ideas for future topics. Doesn't even have to be tech policy, it can be electronics news, video games, whatever you want. Please, ask me about Zelda 2 speedrunning if you like.
Tonight's topic will be Net Neutrality just because that really is big news right now. Two or three people sent me a video apparently going around that was pushing people to go flood the FCC in favor of Net Neutrality. And sure enough, the FCC got flooded with comments about it, but I guarantee you most of the people flipping out about this issue have no clue what's going on, and what the issues are.
Politically, Net Neutrality has always been the concept that we need government to regulate the way ISPs handle Internet traffic, because in theory they may have an incentive to discriminate between one packet of data going to the end users and another, in a way that is harmful to the public. That is, this has always been about the "last mile" of connectivity getting Internet access to homes and businesses.
The problem is this discrimination has always been theoretical. No major ISP has been able to afford to censor sites. No major ISP has dared send all its users to a competitor by charging a Facebook premium, or blocking popular video streaming services. There's too much competition for that. The leftys want you to fear the big boys like Comcast, but it's just not happening.
And yet the radicals in the FCC have tried to push this regulation anyway. The first big test case was when FCC went after Comcast for targeting users who were running copyright infringement rings on their home computers, flooding the network with large scale "BitTorrent seeding" operations, specifically using BitTorrent to distribute copyrighted works illegally. Comcast shut that down, FCC went after them for it. Comcast sued FCC, and won in the Comcast v FCC case, shutting down Net Neutrality.
But they tried again. This time they had a formal process, and created what they called the Open Internet Order. It was an illegal power grab of the same nature that the courts tossed out the first time, so Verizon sued, and in Verizon v FCC, the FCC lost again. Net Neutrality was struck down.
The core issue here is that a bipartisan consensus in the 1990s stripped broad Internet regulatory powers from the FCC. The Telecommunications Act in 1996 created a legal mandate for a light regulatory touch on the Internet. Internet access was not to be treated like the phone company, since we all saw that was a bad idea.
So last time, and again this time, the Robert McChesney/George Soros far left has been pushing an extreme agenda on FCC. They're pushing for a move called "Title II Reclassification", in which the FCC would pull a "deem and pass" maneuver of deeming ISPs to be legally the same as phone companies, thus taking a large amount of regualtory power over the Internet. The FCC would then pass sweeping regulations on the Internet, setting us on the road to the McChesney socialist dream of Obamanet: socialized, government-run Internet.
Well, that's been a bridge too far even for the 3-2 Obama majorities on FCC. Last time we got the Open Internet Order from then-chairman Julius Genachowski. This time, incoming chairman Tom Wheeler made some compromising tweaks to the Open Internet policy. The principle of the power grab is the same, he's just specifically allowing certain things the previous policy might have banned. The extreme left has seized upon thisto push their opposition to "fast lanes", seizing upon Netflix's recent dealings as "proof" of the need for their extreme Reclassification plan.
However it's all a smokescreen. You know how we know it's a smokescreen, and this left-wing opposition to fast lanes is all phony? Because Title II common carriers are allowed fast lanes. It's a position so ignorant, the thought leaders pushing it can only be dishonest about it. And besides, Netflix's issues are all about interconnects and peering, nowhere near the Last Mile.
So we're left in a weird position where lots of leftists are making noise against the Wheeler Net Neutrality plan, but nobody's actually lifting a finger to stop it, except for House conservatives, and the (very good) two Republican minority on the FCC. Ajit Pai I've met (he's even posted at RedState) and he impresses me as as nice guy who really loves the opportunity to listen to people, learn about the innovation in high tech industries, and fight for the opportunity for innovators to thrive. Mike O'Rielly I haven't met, but everything I've seen him writing so far also impresses me that he's a guy who understands the role of government, making his great case that FCC doesn't even follow its own rules.
So Senate Democrats have already shut down any talk of legislatively blocking the Wheeler plan. All the opposition to fast lanes you're seeing from the left is cover fire for this Zombie Net Neutrality plan, a third bite at the apple the courts have smacked out of their mouths twice before.
And there's the first essay of the new Tech at Night, now some links:
AT&T is making the case that the DirecTV merger would be pro-customer by lowering prices in the long run.
Some Senators want to pass a cybersecurity bill, any bill.
The Chicoms are spinning up "spying" propaganda against American firms.
The regulatory Jenga puzzle of compounded winners and losers that is video regulation is hindering passage of the STELA bill on satellite video. This is why regulation is always bad: every time you pass one regulation picking winners and losers, you spawn two paid lobbyists to complicate the next bill. Rinse, Repeat.
Are these old music consent decrees going back to the original Payola scandal? I wonder. Government power grabs have inertia.
We need an NSA because Russian and other foreign threats to us online are real.
NSA's head is going to take some criticism for this but he's right: people don't care about privacy anymore. We know this from the huge popularity of anti-privacy firms in the marketplace.
Republicans are getting pushback on plans to stop Obama from handing over ICANN, the core Internet administrative body, to the UN or to Russian-Chinese control. Do you want Vlad Putin controlling Internet domains? I don't.
Quietly Obama has renewed the push for greater socialized Internet in schools under the mild name of E-Rate.
TV broadcasters with their special monopolies are going to make billions off of cable TV customers because of those special regulatory carve-outs hindering competition. TV stations are a cartel, a legally-created cartel. They are legally protected from having to compete against each other for cable dollars. Jim DeMint tried to fix that once.
It's like the old Soviet days: the Russians are stepping up propaganda in the west. Get ready for pro-Snowden comments here at RedState.
Safari is entering the HTML 5 DRM era, and now that Hollywood got Brendan Eich tossed at Mozilla, will Firefox follow suit with closed-source DRM technology?
Secret Service is clearly doing data mining of public Internet sites, because they want computerized sarcasm detection to filter false positive threats.
John McCain is wrong on government-mandated a la carte cable but he's right on ending the government-mandated sports blackout rule. If NFL wants blackouts, let NFL enforce its own blackouts and be the bad guy.
Should the great musics of the 60s get copyright protection, or should radio broadcasters get a free pass? It's time we closed the radio loophole on old recordings.