“Net Neutrality” a Cover for Comcast-Time Warner Merger?

On the left, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts golfing with President Obama

On the left, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts golfing with President Obama

If you’ve been reading my articles on Net Neutrality, you know that I feel the FCC whipped up the public into a false hysteria over “Net Neutrality” so they could use this as an excuse to hijack control of the Internet. Yet I had a nagging feeling I wasn’t seeing the whole picture. Something was missing. Besides just the general desire for big governments to control the Free and Open Internet, was there another reason President Obama and the FCC suddenly became so interested in taking control of the Internet? Was there more behind the FCC orchestration of the Net Neutrality Hysteria of 2014? After much research on the topic, I think I may have figured it out. During my research, I stumbled upon the fact that the cable company Comcast is one of the largest lobbyists in Washington and a big contributor to President Obama. I also happened to read an article discussing the proposed merger between Comcast and Time-Warner Cable that is awaiting FCC approval and the controversy it is causing. Could the government’s actions have been not so much for protecting Net Neutrality, but rather to remove the hurdles to a Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger?

First, let’s review the timeline of events:

  • May 1, 2013: Obama nominates Tom Wheeler to be chairmain of the FCC. Wheeler is a well-known telecom and cable industry lobbyist and a major Obama donor. Advocates of “Net Neutrality” are alarmed.
  • August 14, 2013: Obama plays golf with the CEO of Comcast. Not that this is anything special. As I mentioned above, Comcast is no stranger to Washington. Besides the massive financial contributions, Comcast’s CEO also served on Obama’s Jobs Council and has appeared at various White House meetings on business and technology. But the timing of this golf game is interesting. As we all know, a lot of business gets done on a golf course. It is also a great way for politicians to have “unofficial” meetings since no agendas or topic of discussions are made public.
  • October 29, 2013: Tom Wheeler is confirmed by the Senate. The fact that an industry insider instead of a “consumer advocate” now chairs the FCC concerns advocates of a Free and Open Internet.
  • February 13, 2014: Comcast announces plans to acquire Time Warner Cable, setting off a firestorm of controversy, as the combined company would have a major share of the Internet service industry. This further unsettles advocates of a Free and Open Internet.
  • February 19, 2014: Chairman Wheeler initiates the creation of new rules around an “Open Internet”.
  • April 29, 2014: Chairman Wheeler circulates the new rules to the FCC. This proposal is what sets off the Net Neutrality Hysteria of 2014 as critics charge it will allow Internet service providers to create “slow lanes.” Wheeler also hints at Title II regulation as “a clear alternative.”
  • May 15, 2014: In a party-line vote, the FCC votes 3-2 to accept Chairman Wheeler’s draft proposal. However, the FCC also opens up a 60-day public comment period to be followed by a 57-day second phase of public commenting.
  • June 1, 2014: John Oliver’s infamous segment on Net Neutrality airs on HBO and goes viral. The mainstream public gets a taste of the Net Neutrality debate and given Oliver’s slant, floods the FCC with comments in support of “Net Neutrality”. It must be noted, however, that Oliver wasn’t calling for an FCC takeover of the Internet, but rather that Tom Wheeler simply “not eat the baby”. In other words, Oliver was firstly concerned with the FCC itself destroying Net Neutrality.
  • September 15, 2014: The public commenting period ends with nearly 4 million comments filed. These are the most comments the FCC has ever received on any issue.
  • November 10, 2014: Ostensibly with public support for “Net Neutrality,” President Obama calls for the FCC to classify Internet service under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, essentially making Internet service fall under the same types of regulations as public utility companies. Yet it is not clear if the public actually wants the FCC to take Title II action or if the public simply didn’t want to the FCC to “eat the baby”.
  • February 5, 2015: Tom Wheeler proposes a new set of FCC rules that classifies Internet service under Title II. This time, Wheeler does not allow for a period of public comment, saying we “can’t wait,” even though the new rules are significantly different than what was proposed in 2014. Additionally, the proposed rules are not made public, even at the insistence of congress and other FCC commissioners.
  • February 26, 2015: The FCC votes to approve Wheeler’s proposal 3-2, again on a party-line vote. As of this writing, the new FCC rules are still not public.

So how are the new FCC rules relevant in regards to the Comcast-Time Warner merger? Technically, we don’t actually know because the new rules are still not available to the public! But that being said, we do know the merger must be approved by the FCC. Where previously there was a lot of pushback to the merger due to the size of a combined Comcast-Time Warner company, now it is easy for the FCC to say that with the new “Net Neutrality” rules in place, we have no need to fear such a merger. Doing further research, it looks like I’m not the only one who thinks this way. I guess we’ll need to see how the vote shakes out, but even with significant public opposition no one should be surprised if the merger now passes approval with the justification being that a stronger FCC can control the huge company.

Now certainly I have no inside knowledge that any of this is true. This series of events could be just one big coincidence. I could be 100% completely wrong about my conclusion. But when it comes to finding the truth, the old adage is “follow the money.” If this series of events has been an orchestrated plan all along, this will turn out to be one of the most egregious instances of crony capitalism ever foisted upon the American public. Not only does the federal government now have carte blanche to regulate the Internet in almost any way it sees fit, but it seems to be handing over the Internet to the largest communication companies. This is exactly what Net Neutrality supporters feared! Yet without full knowledge of the enormity of the FCC’s new rules, they are unwittingly cheering the FCC’s actions!

Instead of encouraging new competition, the FCC is working hand in hand with the two largest ISPs in the country to ensure consolidation in the industry. Perhaps now we see why chairman Wheeler was in such a hurry to pass the new rules. He needed them in place to provide cover for the Comcast-Time Warner merger!

Title II – An FCC Offer You Can’t Refuse

fcc captain nowAs a follow-up to my previous thoughts contemplating the FCC’s hijacking of the Free and Open Internet under the guise of “Net Neutrality,” here are some additional musings:

  • Those who are so desperate for Net Neutrality to be protected by the FCC’s heavy hand need to realize that this is a cure worse than the disease. This is like undergoing chemotherapy for a minor cold. It is the wrong cure for the wrong disease and will likely end in disaster.
  • Not that there really was a disease. According to what little we know about the proposal, which HAS STILL NOT BEEN MADE PUBLIC, there were 3 very weak examples of the ISP industry not acting in Net Neutral ways. Each time that happened, customers complained very loudly and the providers changed course. Sounds like Net Neutrality was just fine to me. We definitely didn’t need the FCC to classify Internet service as a public utility so it can take total control.
  • In essence, what has happened is that instead of having a variety of gatekeepers who were being kept in check through a semblance of competition, now we have ONE gatekeeper who answers virtually to no one. If the FCC decides to go off the rails (and remember it only takes the votes of 3 people to do virtually anything they want) we can’t fire them. Is this REALLY what Net Neutrality proponents want? It seems that we’ve made the situation exponentially worse.
  • How soon everyone seems to forget (or for most of the public who got caught up in the Net Neutrality hysteria, never knew) Tom Wheeler was a lobbyist for the cable industry. When he was appointed by Obama, it was feared that he would tilt the Net Neutrality debate towards the favor of the ISP industry. The flames of those fears were fanned when the rules he originally proposed seemed to do exactly that, which started the Net Neutrality Hysteria of 2014. Again, I reiterate, NOTHING happened last year to threaten Net Neutrality EXCEPT for the FCC’s OWN ACTIONS.
  • We should probably pay more attention to our childhood fables at times like these. This is basically the story of Chicken Little, with a twist. Like Chicken Little, the FCC claimed the sky was falling. The public, like the Goosey Loosey and all the other animals, went right along with the hysteria. In the traditional fable, the animals end up getting eaten by a fox who claims he can lead them to the king. In this version, the fox is also the FCC. How convenient it would seem to cry the sky is falling so that you can eat all the animals.
  • Looking back at the now infamous segment where John Oliver called for protecting “Net Neutrality,” he doesn’t so much rail against the cable companies as much as he does against the proposed FCC rules of 2014. He didn’t ask for the FCC to take over the Internet, he just wanted them to back off and not implement the new rules they were proposing. His main concern was the FCC screwing up Net Neutrality. He even likened Tom Wheeler to a ravenous dingo threatening to eat the Internet “baby”. Again, it wasn’t the cable companies doing anything to threaten Net Neutrality, it was Tom Wheeler.
  • Given Tom Wheeler was a lobbyist for the cable companies, his actions call into question his loyalties. His first proposed rules seem to confirm fears that he was a shill for the big corporations and started the Net Neutrality Hysteria of 2014. But then he reversed course at the apparent bidding of President Obama. Let’s not forget that Obama plays golf with the CEO of Comcast, one of the largest lobbyists in Washington and huge donor to Obama’s campaigns. So is Mr. Wheeler still a wolf (or a dingo) in sheep’s clothing or is he merely a mercenary who will do the dirty work of whomever is paying him? Either way, he’s not to be trusted.
  • Like the Godfather, the FCC just made us all “an offer we can’t refuse”. Literally we can’t because we can’t fire the FCC like we can an ISP. Besides, we all know that offers from the Godfather aren’t really in our best interest. Worse off, given the proposal is still not public, we don’t even know exactly what that offer is!

The FCC Hijacks the Free and Open Internet

Why the change in thinking now, Obama?

Why the change in thinking now, Obama?

It’s hard to put into words my emotions right now. I feel like I’ve been punched in the gut (and having trained in martial arts, I know exactly how that feels). To me the Internet is the the greatest tool for freedom mankind has ever known and one of the greatest entrepreneurial engines in history. Now the censorship arm of the federal government, the FCC, has hijacked control of the Internet – ironically under the guise of “Net Neutrality.” I find it hard to fathom how giving control of the Internet to an agency tasked with restricting the free flow of information is a good idea. I doubt many others do either. However as I wrote before, I believe the FCC, seemingly at the behest of President Obama, has deftly pulled off a political maneuver to give themselves control of the Internet. It is not exaggeration to say that this may be the biggest government slight of hand in history. Make no mistake, government has pulled the rug out from underneath our freedom, and many who believe they are protecting the Internet are cheering this development.

I honestly have so many thoughts going through my head that I struggle to put them all down. So let me just write down some various observations and questions:

  • When the FCC proposed different rules last year, they allowed an extended period of public comment. This year we did not get a chance to comment. In fact the new proposal was created and voted on in less than a month. Why the rush with this set of rules?
  • FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler claims that the comments from last year are sufficient for this new set of rules. However, this set of rules is so different from last year’s proposal that it is hard to accept that argument.
  • Not that the public really got a chance to understand this year’s proposal. The proposal was kept hidden from the public until after the vote was taken. Tom Wheeler steadfastly refused to reveal the proposal, even after congressional requests. Why the secrecy?
  • This year’s “Net Neutrality” rules are almost a complete reversal from what the FCC proposed last year.
  • The FCC’s actions are unprecedented in scope. For something so important, I would think that a poll consisting of only 3 yes votes is not sufficient.
  • How is it that a commissioner appointed by Obama could originally suggest rules that were almost in complete opposition to what Obama later called for? Then so easily flip-flop?
  • Just because one calls a set of rules “Net Neutrality” doesn’t make them so. Especially when the same label was given to a previous set of rules that is almost completely the opposite of what is being proposed now.
  • There was no threat to Net Neutrality last year. The only threat was from the FCCs’ proposed rules.
  • I doubt that most people who support Net Neutrality fully support an FCC takeover. Especially if they were given time to understand all the ramifications. Which I guess is why these new rules were rushed to vote.
  • Nearly everything about this situation stinks. I mean really, really stinks.
  • If the danger of a big government bureaucracy isn’t evident now, it should be. IT TOOK ONLY 3 PEOPLE VOTING YES TO USURP THE MOST IMPORTANT TECHNOLOGY ADVANCEMENT IN HISTORY!
  • Ok, forget 3 people, this appears to be basically an executive order from Obama.
  • Give the importance of the Internet to our future freedom, this feels like a Coup d’état.

How to get the public to accept government control of the Internet in three easy steps:

  1. Use the FCC to propose a set of rules that puts the public into a hysteria about “Net Neutrality.”
  2. Suggest that the only way to protect “Net Neutrality” is for the FCC to take full regulatory control of the Internet.
  3. Have the FCC propose a new set of rules that ostensibly protects “Net Neutrality” while giving full regulatory control of the Internet and rush the rules to vote, not allowing the public to scrutinize the rules or comment on them.

At this point I am resolved to fight this tooth-and-nail. This was just the first battle. The war for control of the Internet and our freedom has just begun.

Net Neutrality Astroturfed? Have We Been Snowed?

I’m from the FCC and I’m here to censor … I mean “protect” your Internet.

Something about the sudden mainstreaming of the Net Neutrality issue last year struck me as odd. Where the topic had been around for many years, it was mostly an issue that was discussed in techie circles. Why did it suddenly become so hot last year? In observing the way the FCC is handling the situation now, I am starting to wonder if the way the debate evolved was no accident. I have suspicions we have all been set up by a well thought out political manipulation.

It is very important to keep in mind that unlike many other countries, in the United States our government can not currently censor the Internet. For all the teeth-gnashing done last year, the fact is we HAVE Net Neutrality right now. No Internet provider did anything last year to threaten this state of Net Neutrality. So why the sudden thrusting of the Net Neutrality debate into the mainstream? The event that triggered the groundswell of Net Neutrality hoopla were some proposed new rules by the FCC. Yes, it was the FCC themselves that initiated a firestorm of media coverage of the topic, highlighted by viral videos produced by popular pseudo-news programs such as The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. To reiterate, it was not the Internet provider industry that threatened Net Neutrality last year, it was people’s fears that the FCC was was to give away Net Neutrality that started us down this road last April. Keep that in mind as you keep reading this article.

In a seemingly sudden reversal, now the FCC is proposing different rules that will classify Internet services under Title II of the 1934 Communication Act, an unprecedented action and seismic shift in the free and open nature of the Internet. Make no mistake about it, the FCC is about to engage in a historical naked power grab, simply making up authority where none is given in law. It is ludicrous to believe that a law written in 1934 could possibly be applied to something that didn’t truly exist until over 60 years later. It is not a fanciful notion to think that had the FCC proposed such an action at this time last year or in years prior, it would have been met with incredible resistance from anyone who cares about the potential censorship of the Internet. But this year, after approximately nine months of nearly constant Net Neutrality fear-mongering and a public proclamation from President Obama that he wants this action, it would appear that Title II classification has public support. The questions we must start to ask ourselves are that without the rules proposed by the FCC last year, would we have proposed Title II action this year? If it seems reasonable to think that one action resulted in the next, were these actions simply happenstance? And does Title II classification truly have public support?

While I have no inside information and I have no way to know for sure, it certainly feels like last year’s Net Neutrality “movement” was contrived. Based on my knowledge and observation of politics along with my extensive experience inside Internet culture from the beginning of its mainstreaming, I would certainly not be surprised if this entire sequence of events was orchestrated. The supposed “grassroots” feel of the Net Neutrality movement could have been wholly “astroturfed”. It would certainly explain how such a geeky topic suddenly went viral. The politics of technology isn’t exactly mainstream watercolor talk.

The really insidious aspect to the current Net Neutrality debate is that the proponents have done an artful job conflating the issue. There is no doubt that people want a free and open Internet. We do not want our Internet access to be restricted by our Internet providers. All the discussion of Net Neutrality in the last year has brought that concept into the mainstream. What is not so clear is whether people want the FCC, the agency responsible for the censorship of radio and TV, in charge of the Internet. As I mentioned in a previous article, the current Net Neutrality debate is really about whether we want government intervention in the Internet market, or what I call Government Regulation of Internet Providers, i.e. GRIP. With the media presenting no other options besides GRIP, it is no surprise that many people think that the only way to ensure the continuance of Net Neutrality is by government action. However, I strongly believe that even people who claim they support GRIP don’t want the government to go as far as Title II classification. It is a clumsy, heavy-handed, throwing the baby out with the bathwater approach to Net Neutrality.

Most people who support GRIP simply want government regulation that will prevent “slow lanes” on the Internet. They don’t necessarily understand the wholesale ramifications that Title II classification of Internet service would bring. I truly believe that the people who created a culture of freedom and openness on the Internet have no desire for FCC control. But someone has done a masterful job of changing the discourse from simply “Net Neutrality” to complete FCC control of the Internet. I don’t think those who were vocal in support of Net Neutrality last year are necessarily excited about Title II. But it may be too late. The powers that be have used the quick popularity of the debate last year to create a proposal that encompasses much, much more than simply stopping the creation of “slow lanes”. However, this proposal isn’t being given time to be debated in the public space. It is being rushed to a vote. In fact, the public hasn’t seen the actual proposal the FCC will be voting on. So far we have only been given lip service about it. The public has no clue what is about to transpire, other than a supposed vote on “Net Neutrality”.

We must ask ourselves what is the rush to pass this latest FCC proposal? When the FCC proposed rules last year, they asked for public input, which was one of the reasons for the media circus around Net Neutrality. They are not asking for any such commentary on this proposal, which is way above and beyond the context of stopping slow lanes. I’m now seeing news reports that the Obama administration is directly involved in the latest FCC proposal, which is not surprising considering President Obama himself said he believes Internet service should be classified under Title II. At the same time, I’m also reading articles that the Federal Election Commission is considering ways to regulate bloggers and other political content on the Internet. This is not a new development, considering that many prominent elected officials have claimed that bloggers are not “real journalists,” and therefore are not protected under the 1st Amendment. Are you starting to see my overall concern?

The Internet has been a bastion of freedom and free press since it went mainstream in the mid 1990’s. It has resulted in a transformation of the media landscape unlike any other in history. Old World mainstream media is losing the control it had on the flow of information. Politicians do not like the fact they can not control the New World media like they could the old. Remember, it wasn’t mainstream media that broke the Monica Lewinsky story – it was the Drudge Report. In fact, the lead of the Drudge Report article was “Newsweek Kills Story on White House Intern”. Traditional media was happy to kill a story that has now become a significant episode in our history. We may never have known about the Monica Lewinsky affair if it were not for Internet media. Are we all that surprised that politicians want to control this source of information? Even if you are concerned that Net Neutrality is in danger, you can not believe the Internet would be safer under the control of the FCC.

The bottom line is it looks like we’ve all been snowed. The federal government has pulled off a shrewd sleight of hand, seemingly convincing us that in order to protect us from the big, bad, cable and telephone companies, they must take over control of the Internet. Remember, the FCC itself was the entity that scared the media into the Net Neutrality debate last year and now conveniently has had an about-face. However, if we truly care about the freedom of the Internet – if we truly care about our own freedom – we must recognize that this is the worst thing that could happen to the Internet. We must question if we have been pawns in a larger game over the future of the free and open Internet and not give in so easily to those who wish to control us.

Net Neutrality – Only For “Legal” Content

Internet at the speed of bureaucracyMake sure to read my previous article: Net Neutrality – The Untold Story

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s recent proposal for reclassifying Internet service as a public utility includes some language I think most coverage is glossing over. According to CNET.com, the yet-to-be publicly disclosed proposal has the following phrase in reference to Internet Service Providers restricting access: “may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices.”

At first glance, this seems reasonable. No one has a problem with legal content or nonharmful devices, right? But one must wonder why the words “legal” and “nonharmful” were included? Reread the phrase and leave out those words. Does it really change the meaning? Would Net Neutrality proponents care if those words were left out? Do Net Neutrality proponents actually prefer that those words were left out? Perhaps you are now starting to see my concern.

What about “illegal” content or “harmful” devices? At first you may think, “who cares”? If it is illegal or harmful then why does it matter? Well it might matter if your content is suddenly deemed “illegal” or your device is classified as “harmful”. Is it inconceivable to think that powerful lobbies could influence the government to deem content or devices they don’t like as “illegal” or “harmful”? (as an aside, what the heck is a “harmful” device?) They can’t do that now, because the federal government and FCC do not have the authority to regulate the Internet. But soon they might claim this authority. Then what?

Astute readers will probably point out that the FCC proposal doesn’t obligate Internet Service Providers to block illegal content or harmful devices. True enough. But if the FCC claims they have the power to control what Internet providers can do, how far of a stretch is it to surmise that the FCC will one day claim they have the power to censor the Internet? Of course, it will be ostensibly for “the public good”, as they claim their rules for Net Neutrality are as well. Understand that the FCC already censors radio and TV. The great thing about the Internet is that it IS free and open (well, at least until the FCC gets hold of it). The stark contrast between the uncensored Internet and FCC-censored radio and TV is one of the reasons the Internet has transformed society.

Keep this in mind: the freedom of the Internet – our freedom – is about to be decided by 5 unelected bureaucrats. People who have incentive to give themselves more control. Because control means power and what government entity doesn’t love power? Net Neutrality proponents fear being controlled yet they are about to hand over the Internet on a silver platter to the most powerful and controlling entity on Earth. Can someone explain to me how that makes any sense?

Net Neutrality – The Untold Story

Net Neutrality I Do Not Think it Means What You Think it MeansWhile the topic of Net Neutrality has been one of the hottest debates of the last year, I have remained mostly silent. I had wanted to compile my thoughts as completely as possible before commenting since the issue is very complex. When it comes to the subject of Net Neutrality, I could write a book. In fact, I probably will one day soon. But for now, events unfolding have made expressing my thoughts on the topic much more urgent and I can not wait any longer. While I have tried to condense my thoughts, the following post is a little long. However, if you want a thorough understanding of the Net Neutrality debate, please read, share, and comment below.

My relationship with the Internet is a unique one. I lived the whole of my childhood never having heard of the Internet. Yet I’ve spent my entire adult life growing up along with it. I’m just old enough to know what it is like to have grown up without the Internet but just young enough (and techie enough) to have embraced it as an integral part of my life. I am an Internet “colonist” if you will. For me personally, the Internet has transformed me as much as it has transformed society. My adult life and my career have been inextricably entwined with the evolution of the Internet into mainstream society. As a student of technology, history, and liberty, I regard the Internet entering the mainstream as a watershed development in the history of mankind. This time in history will be regarded as a pivotal era in the evolution of human civilization. Sure, I enjoy cute kitten videos as much as the next guy, but to me the Internet is much more than entertainment. I see the Internet as the greatest tool for freedom mankind has ever known and one of the greatest entrepreneurial engines in history. If technology is one of the highest forms of human expression, then the Internet is the greatest medium for that expression ever created. So believe me when I say I value the openness and freedom of the Internet as much as anybody and will do everything I can to protect it.

What Exactly is “Net Neutrality”?

The term “Net Neutrality” was coined way back in 2003 by Columbia University media law professor Tim Wu, so it should be obvious that the issue is not new. I personally have been following the subject for many years and actually had experience with some of the precursor issues back in the late 1990’s. Net Neutrality has received a lot of mainstream attention in the last year so it suddenly has moved to the forefront of techno-political conversation. A big problem for those wishing to understand the discussion is that the concept of “Net Neutrality” is simultaneously both complicated and simple. The term can mean different things to different people and most people really don’t have any clue of the underlying technology or politics. Shallow soundbites and buzzwords tend to oversimplify the subject. So allow me to quickly break it down – and don’t skip ahead because understanding the underlying issues is critical in understanding the debate at large.

I think that for most people, Net Neutrality is the idea that Internet Service Providers stay “neutral” when it comes to delivering the content you are accessing. For example, an Internet provider should not be able to block or throttle data coming to you from a company like Netflix. But to many it also means that they should not be able to block data that is politically sensitive or information that may be controversial.

I can’t imagine anyone wanting their choices restricted. I would assume that if given a preference, most people would say they want the freedom to read or watch anything on the Internet and not have the quality of their service arbitrarily degraded. Incidentally, I think most people would also say the same thing about TV and radio service, if they had the choice.

So who could possibly be against Net Neutrality? Obviously the big communication companies that provide Internet service are always looking for ways to increase their revenues. One way that has seen some interest is the idea of “paid prioritization” where Internet providers can prioritize traffic coming from certain sites. For example, Netflix could pay various ISPs to ensure that their streaming video data had prioritization on the network so that users could have the best viewing experience possible. In a legally regulated Net Neutral scenario, ISPs couldn’t do this and therefore would lose out on potential revenue. It should be obvious that ISPs would rather not be restricted by rules that limit revenue.

Therein lies the debate as far as most people are concerned. They believe it is simply an issue of keeping the Internet free and open for everyone vs the profit of large communication companies. Now these people aren’t exactly wrong. But they are not getting the whole truth.

The Devil is in the Details

Most proponents of Net Neutrality want the government to be able to intervene and enforce rules that would prohibit ISPs from implementing paid prioritization. How exactly this should be done depends on who is proposing the rules, but regardless they all revolve around government controlling the ISPs.

Most opponents of Net Neutrality say they don’t want the government to get involved and that Internet service providers aren’t truly interested in creating Internet slow lanes to extract payments out of Internet content companies. They say the Internet is already neutral and government regulation will only stifle the openness of the Internet as well as investment and growth of Internet technologies.

As I’ve discovered in many things political, both sides actually want the same thing – in this case a free and open Internet. Of course, both sides differ in the way they want that achieved. And unfortunately when arguing the issue, each side paints the other with a broad brush.

Net Neutrality proponents claim that all Internet providers want to set up paid prioritization schemes so that they can control what you are able to access in a way similar to how cable TV subscription packages work today. Internet providers are only interested in profit and they could care less about Internet freedom.

Net Neutrality opponents claim that Internet providers have no interest in restricting access to particular content and would self-regulate so that they would never use their position as last-mile provider to extort money from businesses that provide content. Net Neutrality proponents are only interested in stifling profits as a way to punish rich companies.

Obviously, neither exaggeration is correct. But what both sides miss are some fundamental understanding of the way Internet service works and the politics around it.

What’s a Guy or Gal To Do?

Those who know me or read this blog would probably assume that I would fall on the side of less government involvement. However, it isn’t that simple.

Let me be clear on one thing: I do NOT want Internet service providers making decisions for me on what type of content I can view or restricting the free flow of any type of information that I want. This is something I would fight tooth-and-nail against. But I am also fearful of government doing the exact same thing! Does it really matter if it is a corporation or a government restricting my free and open Internet? Neither is something I want and I assume most people would agree with me. However, very few people are talking about the danger of giving the federal government control over Internet Service Providers which essentially gives them control over the Internet itself.

The Net Neutrality Conundrum

As someone who believes in the free market, Net Neutrality is a tricky subject. Instinctively I know that government regulation can’t truly help the situation. But in the same breath, I also don’t trust the big Internet service providers. I really have no doubt that big ISPs would follow the paid prioritization model if they felt it would be profitable. Would they use their position as the last-mile provider to exploit Internet content companies? That isn’t as clear, but for argument’s sake I can make the assumption. With this bleak scenario in my head, what besides government intervention can stop big ISPs from wrecking the free and open Internet? The answer is clear: competition. But when it comes to the current state of Internet providers, that isn’t the whole answer.

Competition is ultimately what gives consumers the power in any free market. A company that does unpopular things to consumers will lose business to other companies that don’t do unpopular things. The threat of collusion is greatly diminished the more competition there is. The profit motive tends to incentivize companies to outflank their competition rather than colluding to keep the status quo. But something is missing when it comes to competition in today’s Internet provider market. There seems to be a distinct lack of it.

And therein lies the rub. People complain about Internet service providers like they do about cable TV or phone companies. Which isn’t surprising because most ISPs are in fact cable or phone companies. For all the complaining done about these companies, the problem is that people feel trapped. Many people feel like they don’t have a choice. What is it about cable and phone companies that make people feel that these businesses have so much power over them?

That really is the question to ponder. Nobody likes to feel like they are being controlled. Regardless if it is big business or big government, people do not want outside entries dictating what they can or can’t do or what information they have access to. No one wants feel trapped because they can’t leave the influence of an entity that wants to control them. I’ve thought about this question for quite awhile. This is the key to the Net Neutrality debate and it seems like no one is discussing it.

The reason cable and telephone companies have such control over the people they serve is because their infrastructure is under the protection of a government-sanctioned monopoly. Cable and telephone companies do not need to worry about competition from other cable or telephone companies because local governments make it illegal for competitors to exist in their jurisdiction! Instead of adding more government regulation to fix problems created by government regulation in the first place, we should attempt to repeal that regulation which is causing the problem!

The Real Issue is GRIP

Since there is so little competition in the Internet provider market it is feasible that companies could leverage their power to increase revenue at the expense of a free and open Internet. Nobody seems to want that to happen but the problem exists because of past government action, not the lack of it. However, most Net Neutrality proponents are only calling for more government intervention so the idea of Net Neutrality seems married to increased regulation.

The arguments from Net Neutrality proponents are very emphatic that big Internet providers will eventually conspire to lock us into the type of subscription options that exist today for cable TV. Again, I actually somewhat agree with this assertion. I don’t trust the big Internet providers to always do the right thing. However, I definitely don’t trust big government to always act in the best interest of the people. Net Neutrality proponents rarely discuss the danger of big government to the very Internet they claim to hold dear.

The main thrust for most “Net Neutrality” proponents isn’t so much an actually neutral Internet, but rather that we entrust the Internet service provider market to government. And the main counterpoint by Net Neutrality opponents isn’t that a neutral Internet is a bad thing, but rather that government regulation is. Therefore it is this “Government Regulation of Internet Providers”, or as I now simply deem, GRIP, that is the actual sticking point. Everyone seems to want a free and open Internet, we all just disagree on how to best ensure that.

Tightening the GRIP

Proponents of GRIP use terms like “fast and slow lanes” to describe what they think Internet providers will eventually offer to subscribers. As I said before, in no way do I want this type of Internet service. I want exactly what I have now, which is a high-speed connection that is not traffic-shaped or prioritized to the detriment of any site or service I wish to access. I believe this is also what most people want as well, which is why any threat to free access of any site or service on the Internet is met with such resistance. People want freedom and the Internet is the greatest tool of freedom the world has ever seen. So it is not surprising that when people are told that large Internet providers have plans to restrict their freedom that they would look to government to stop this from happening.

The Internet service provider industry by-and-large reject the idea of GRIP because they claim that it will stifle investment and growth of the Internet. Honestly, I could care less about such arguments, except when it comes to continued improvement of bandwidth and access. I’m not sure why the ISP industry chooses to hang their hat on this argument because the optics play out like they are greedy bastards, more concerned with profit than anything else. Instead, they should be focusing on the real specter of GRIP: the fact that once the government can regulate the Internet service provider industry, they can regulate the Internet itself.

The very thing that people are up in arms about regarding “Net Neutrality” is exactly why they should fear GRIP. If they believe competing companies will collude to restrict the freedom of the Internet, I’m not sure why they think that a government with enormous power wouldn’t be corrupted to do the same thing. The only difference, and the key factor to understand, is that competing companies in a free market answer to their customers whereas a government bureaucracy effectively answers to no one. It is much easier to fire your ISP than it is to root out layer upon layer of bureaucracy – especially when most of those bureaucrats are unelected – we can’t simply vote them out!

A Solution Looking for a Problem

Another issue that proponents of GRIP rarely mention is that we actually currently enjoy Net Neutrality! Yes, without the FCC interfering, after about 20 years of mostly unregulated service, our Internet service is not throttled by any major Internet providers. Yes, there have been examples of companies attempting to mess around with the data transmitted over their infrastructure, but the customer backlash was quick and fierce and those companies promptly backed down. While proponents of GRIP try to use these incidents as proof of the big, bad wolf trying to blow down your free and open Internet, I look at these situations as examples of why we don’t need the government to get involved. We the people exert plenty of pressure on the ISPs to provide the type of service we want. We simply do not need a so-called government solution to a problem that does not exist! What we need is more competition and the solution is to remove the government-created barriers that restrict all existing and future communication companies from competing with each other in local markets.

We are actually very lucky that cable companies have their roots in TV and phone companies in telecommunications because governments allowed both entities to exist since they served different markets. The reality is that now cable and phone companies actually offer virtually identical services: Internet, TV, and phone. There is virtually no difference in the services they provide, other than the infrastructure in which they arrive at your house or business. This should make one thing very clear: there is truly no need for governments to sanction monopolies to communication companies anymore. If two providers can exist in an area, why not three or more? When it comes to Net Neutrality, competition is the prevention and cure to any company restricting the freedom of the Internet. It is time to create more competition, not continue to cripple it.

The Bleak Future of GRIP

At best GRIP is a solution looking for a problem. At worst, GRIP is a calculated attempt by big government proponents, including big business, to begin government regulation of the Internet so they can exploit it later. Be certain about this point – big business is a big fan of GRIP. Those who support GRIP under the guise of Net Neutrality are basically handing control of the Internet to the very interests they claim to fear. Just a quick study of the recent repeated attempts at Internet regulation (SOPA, PIPA, CISPA) should indicate that powerful entities abound that wish to regulate the Internet. Of course, they couch this regulation under the guise of protecting copyrights or national security, neglecting to acknowledge the privacy infringements these laws would cause. GRIP, under the guise of “Net Neutrality”, is potentially even more insidious. Once government has control of the Internet Service Provider market, it is not a stretch to believe their control will overflow. Today’s proposed rules are ostensibly for the protection of the consumer. Tomorrow’s regulations could be to “protect” copyright holders or to give the NSA access to your private data. Make no mistake about it, whatever bad things a corporation could do to your Internet pales in comparison to what big government can do. How sad would it be for proponents of Net Neutrality to wake up to a future where their worst nightmares have come true – but not because of greedy corporations – but because they turned over control of the Internet to the only entity actually capable of restricting it?

A Final Thought

Let me leave you with this final thought: the history and legacy of the FCC is control and censorship. If you believe the FCC will ultimately do anything different with the Internet, I know a Nigerian prince with millions of dollars ready to transfer to your bank account.