In my last post Why and How Politicians Lie, I enumerated several ways that politicians can get their way without being held accountable by angry constituents. This week, I’ll give you an example of number 6: Using regulation instead of bills to make changes in the law.
Case in point: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last Thursday distributed his 332 page net neutrality plan to commissioners for review. This plan is not public, nor will the public be allowed to see the plan until the commission votes on the plan later this month. In other words, they have to vote on the plan before we know what’s in the plan. Sound familiar?
Here is President Obama's 332-page plan to regulate the Internet. I wish the public could see what's inside. pic.twitter.com/bwwAsk8ZiB
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPaiFCC) February 6, 2015
Who is Tom Wheeler? He is an ex venture capitalist and lobbyist appointed by President Obama and confirmed by voice vote by the then Democratic controlled senate in October of 2013.[1. “Wheeler confirmed as head of FCC” USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2013/10/29/tom-wheeler-confirmed-fcc-chairman/3309333/] During his confirmation, he stated in writing that he would go to congress for direction before issuing any new iteration of net neutrality rules. He did not do so.[1. “Wicker, Thune Statement on Net Neutrality Decision” Senator Roger Wicker http://www.wicker.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2014/1/wicker-thune-statement-on-net-neutrality-decision]
Who wrote this 332 “book of regulations”? We don’t know.
What is “broken” about the internet that needs fixed? No-one is saying its broken. They just want to make sure that “all consumers have access to all legal content and applications on an equal basis.”[1. “Q&A: The ins and outs of net neutrality” USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2015/02/05/net-neutrality-fcc-chairman-proposal/22920283/]
What gives them the authority to put these regulations into place? They claim that the Title II section of “The Communications Act of 1934” gives them them the authority. Well, that act dealt with utilities like water and electricity. And the monopolies that controlled them. The internet, by its very nature, simply isn’t structured the same way.
So, the FCC (goaded by President Obama) is attempting to enact regulations that are not currently needed, are overreaching (a previous attempt was rejected by the courts), and they are doing so practically in secret while bypassing congress. Then, why are they doing it?
To answer that, I’ll refer back to my post Politics and Government Explained. Power. The internet is a big problem for people trying to grow and use their power (or influence, or money, or whatever you want to call it.) The internet, as it currently stands, lets just about anybody speak their mind. It lets information out that could otherwise be relatively easily suppressed. I don’t have to go find quotes from famous people saying “control the media, and you control the country”. It’s universally accepted. So the government regulated as much media as it could. The last (arguably) unregulated media, newspapers, has essentially been replaced by the internet. So politicians see a new opportunity to control the flow of information. The better they control information, the faster their power increases.
Another factor, not to be overlooked, is that net neutrality opens the door for new taxes. Most people would be astounded to learn how much money goes to the government in the form of taxes, fees, licencing, usage fees, etc. from the various utility companies around the country. This is a whole new completely untapped revenue stream! They must be wringing their hands in anticipation. Of course all such taxes are simply passed onto the consumer. Does anybody really think that government regulation of the internet will make it any better or cheaper? It didn’t work with healthcare.
Last, but not least, regulations can provide “entry barriers” to new internet service providers. The government can control information more easily when there are a few large ISPs than when there are hundreds or thousands of small ones, with more springing up each day. Quiet backroom deals can be made. Plausible deniability is much more plausible.
Look at how communist and theocratic dictatorships like China and Iran are controlling the internet internally. As I mentioned before, those types of regimes can just be more open about how they do it because they can’t be voted out of office. Politicians here desperately want that same kind of control but they need “plausible deniability” so they can avoid the wrath of the voters.
I stand by my earlier articles on what drives politics and big business. And if I’m right, I should be able to predict what will happen with net neutrality. I’ll put down my prediction here with the date. We’ll see what happens…I just hope I’m wrong.
Predicted on Feb 6, 2015 (after Tom Wheeler distributed his 332 page net neutrality regulations to the commissioners but before they voted on them or any of the details within were made public.)
- Some level of net neutrality will be put in place, probably watered down to make it seem like they are backing off. This is a standard way to placate the populace. They will end up with more-or-less what they intended to start with in the first place.
- Congress will narrowly avoid passing legislation reigning in the FCC and overturning net neutrality. They will either drag their feet or make sure the legislation just barely fails, depending on voter reactions. Of course, for now, they have the excuse that President Obama will simply veto any legislation they pass. I don’t think it will come to that. Congress wants net neutrality as much as anybody. One way or another, in the end net neutrality will not be overturned, but it will look like they tried.
- The courts will not overturn net neutrality. The did overturn it once before, but in so doing they basically explained how to word it the next time to get it through.
The result of all this will be that the government will be in control of the internet. The few large ISPs will be able to consolidate their power, either merging with or crushing their competition. There won’t be any changes right away, but I predict that five years from now there will be fewer choices for internet service than there are today. Prices will rise at a faster rate than before, and small fees and taxes will begin to show up on our bills (ever really read your phone bill?)
In exchange for making it easier to make larger piles of money, the ISPs will secretly concede to government requests to “downplay” certain information sources (cause problems for troublesome websites.) How do we prove this one? We probably won’t be able to prove it unequivocally, but just compare the financial statements of the largest ISPs between now, and five years from now. How did that happen?
Not a pretty picture, is it? Like I said; I hope I’m wrong.