The Second Amendment is Irrelevant

constitution_gunYes, you read the title correctly. Contrary to what most people think, the surprising truth is that within the context of the seemingly endless gun control debate, the Second Amendment simply doesn’t matter. It has virtually no relevance and most people who base gun control discussions around the Second Amendment are wasting their time. The Second Amendment even has very little significance in any conversations about the right to bear arms. Does this sound crazy? Good. I’ve got your attention and now we can really get to the core of the gun control discussion.

Many conversations around gun control completely miss (or ignore) some fundamental considerations regarding the concept of rights (including the right to bear arms) and the purpose and function of the Constitution. In reality I’m not surprised, as most people have no idea how the United States federal government is supposed to work. Nor do most people have a foundational understanding of their own rights and freedoms. I think it’s time to bring these considerations to the forefront because they are entirely relevant to so many other issues today beyond gun control.

What Exactly is the Second Amendment?

As I mentioned, most people frame the debate over gun control as a Second Amendment issue. Many who advocate for the right to bear arms call this a “Second Amendment right.” Others who support legal restrictions on private ownership of guns attempt to interpret the Second Amendment in a way that does not give individuals the right to bear arms. Regardless of their position, anyone who discusses the regulation of gun ownership in the context of the Second Amendment is fighting the wrong battle.

The fact is, while not exactly for the reasons they claim, people who assert the Second Amendment does not give us the right to bear arms are actually correct! The Second Amendment does not confer *any* rights whatsoever to anyone. People in support of private gun ownership are wrong to claim that the right to bear arms comes from the Second Amendment. So does this mean that the government can regulate gun ownership as it pleases? Not at all. This is because while the Second Amendment does not give us any rights, it does not mean those rights do not exist.

Given that most people are conditioned to regard the 2nd Amendment as the crux of the gun control debate, I’m guessing at this point you are a little confused. In order to understand the points I am about to make, let me start with a little history lesson. Our country as it exists today was founded on two documents: The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States of America.

On Rights and Government

The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This now-famous statement forms the core of the American belief system:

  • Every single individual is equal to all others, therefore no one person has authority over another.
  • Our rights exist at the time of our birth; these rights are not granted to us by other people.
  • Some of these rights (but not all of them) include our lives and the ability to protect it, plus our freedom to live our life the way we want.

I doubt I would find much argument on these concepts from anyone who believes in the American way of life. Yet I have found that many people do not fully understand the self-evident truth that rights are unalienable (or inalienable). This insight is absolutely crucial to a proper comprehension of how our government is supposed to function and what authority it has, if any, in the resolution of particular societal issues. The key concept to grasp about unalienable rights is that our rights do NOT come from other men or groups of men acting as a government. Our rights exist above and beyond the authority of government because they come from our creation. This is vitally important to understand because if we believe our rights come from other people, then we also believe our rights can be justifiably taken away by other people. In fact, if we believe our rights come from man, then in effect we believe they are not truly rights at all, but rather privileges.

This concept is immediately affirmed by the very next sentence in The Declaration of Independence. “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …” This means that the purpose of government is to protect the rights of the people it governs. It does not say that the purpose of government is to create rights. It does not even say that the purpose of government is to govern rights. It says governments are instituted to secure rights. Additionally, the powers of government are only justified when it is granted by those who consent to be governed, which further bolsters the idea that the rights of the people are superior to any form of government.

The Declaration continues, “… That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it …” In other words, when a government begins to infringe on the rights of those it governs, the people have the authority to change the government or even completely abolish it. This statement could not make it any more clear that the rights of free people are not subject to the authority of government. If government was the arbitrator of rights, it could simply restrict the right of people to change their own government. However, this right (as all rights) doesn’t come from other men or any government. It is an unalienable right (as all rights are) that exists because we exist. We don’t need permission from anyone to exercise our rights since we are all equal and posses our rights naturally – no man or group of men has the authority to deny our rights. We the people are the master of our government, not the other way around.

Rights and The Supreme Law of the Land

The Constitution of the United States of America was not our first supreme law of the land. That was the Articles of Confederation, as hopefully most of you know! Once the United States had secured their independence from the king and government of Great Britain, the founding fathers then set about creating a new set of laws that would “form a more perfect Union” and “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” To be honest, the text of the Constitution beyond the preamble is pretty dry reading. It is not an inspirational document like The Declaration of Independence. Rather it is largely a rote definition of the internal processes of the federal government and its relationship to the independent states which it governs. Not until we get to the first ten amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, do we get back to the ideals that were first laid out in The Declaration.

Since many people have not studied the Constitution beyond the relatively boring mechanism of government they were taught in school, it should not be surprising that a lot of people believe the Bill of Rights are where our rights come from. However, as I explained in the previous section, The Declaration proclaims that our rights are natural. Our rights exist because we exist. They do not come from other men or groups of men acting as governments. So what is the point of the Bill of Rights if they don’t actually give us certain rights? Furthermore, if one thinks about it briefly, why wasn’t the Bill of Rights included in the original Constitution? Why did it need to be added during the ratification process and why did some people actually oppose the inclusion of the first ten amendments? Bear with me for a little more discussion of history and the Constitution.

If one reads Article I of the Constitution, Section 1 states that “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States …” If we remember what The Declaration of Independence said, all just powers of government come from the consent of the governed. In other words, government can ONLY justifiably do what the people allow it to do. So Article I, Section 1 codifies this into law by stating that all regulatory (legislative) authority herein granted will be entrusted with the Congress. It does not say “all legislative powers” shall be vested, it states “all legislative Powers herein granted …” This implies that a listing of powers to be granted from the people is forthcoming and those will be the only limited and specific authorities government will posses. Continuing reading through Article I, the next several sections detail how Congress will function internally until we get to Article I, Section 8, which finally does state what the specific powers of Congress shall be. I won’t reprint the entire text of Article I, Section 8 here, but please do go and read it for yourself. While you read it, keep in mind what The Declaration of Independence said about the just powers of government coming from the consent of the governed, but also consider what the point of delineating a specific set of authorities would be. If the intent of the Constitution was to merely give Congress the power to pass any law it wanted, why not simply state that? Why list a particular set of powers “herein granted”?

The simple answer is that government arbitrarily taking more power for itself through legislation would be counter to the ideals of freedom and liberty the country was founded upon. Not only that, but if a government can simply grant itself more authority, then it essentially becomes a government of unlimited power and one that can easily oppress the rights of the people without accountability. In essence, government would have the power to vote away people’s rights, making the country a place where the powerful can rule over the less powerful, the majority could rule the minority, and tyranny would reign instead of freedom.

The Authority to Regulate Gun Ownership?

Now that you’ve read the text of Article I, Section 8, are you able to point out where the federal government is given the authority to regulate private ownership of anything, let alone guns? There is no mention of the word gun, weapon, arms, or ownership anywhere in the text of Article I, Section 8. So given the previous understanding of the ideals set forth by the Declaration of Independence and Article I, Section 1 of the Constitution, how can one justifiably argue that the federal government has any authority to regulate the right to bear arms?

Some people might argue that the “interstate commerce clause” allows the federal government to regulate the sale of guns. In theory, as long as lawmakers show any kind of correlation between an activity and interstate commerce, then they can claim authority to pass legislation regulating that activity. Similarly, others may argue that the “necessary and proper clause” also gives government the power to regulate the right the bear arms. As before, if lawmakers can figure out how to rationalize something into being “necessary and/or proper,” then they can justify taking the power to pass certain laws. The discussion over explicit vs implied authority in the Constitution is a long standing one and a full discussion of which would be well outside the scope of this article. If you want to read some more of my thoughts on this topic, I wrote an article that discusses how the abuse of the commerce clause in essence gives the federal government the power to regulate nearly anything it wants. However, to make a very simple analogy, consider the “Kevin Bacon game.” If you aren’t familiar with it, this is a simple party game where the players basically try to “link” actors to Kevin Bacon through the movies they appeared in. Ask anyone who has played the game and they’ll tell you that virtually every actor and actress in Hollywood can be linked to Kevin Bacon if you work at it hard enough. Similarly, crafty politicians can basically link anything to interstate commerce or deem it “necessary and proper” through questionable legal and mental gymnastics. The bottom line is that if you want to argue that the commerce or necessary and proper clauses give the federal government the power to regulate guns, then you are arguing that the federal government has the power to regulate everything and anything. This is certainly not what the founding fathers intended and it is likely not what you (or anyone who believes in freedom) would actually prefer to be true.

Again, the discussion of implied powers deserves its own space. But for purposes of this discussion if you would be willing to concede that the question of federal authority over the right to bear arms through the commerce or necessary and proper clauses is at least not clear-cut, we can continue. Stipulating this, there is literally nothing within Article I, Section 8 that gives the federal government the authority to regulate the private ownership of guns. Before you ask, there is no other section of the Constitution that gives regulatory authority to congress or any other branch of government, and no text within the Constitution or the amendments even mention the words gun, weapon, or arms (save for the Second Amendment). So with that in mind, consider the creation of the Bill of Rights and the process behind its ratification.

The Bill of Guarantees

Given the very limited set of powers defined in Article I, Section 8, the original framers of the Constitution saw no reason to include a listing of what rights were to be protected against government tyranny. How could a government lawfully infringe upon someone’s rights when they had no just power to do so? However, others saw it differently. They did not trust that the newly formed federal government would stay within their legal bounds and wanted further protection for their natural rights from the centralized power the Constitution would create. This idea seems fairly self-evident today, but there were actually people opposed to an enumeration of rights being listed in the Constitution. This wasn’t because they were opposed to protecting those rights, but rather because they thought that by listing certain rights, people would eventually believe that those were the only rights protected from government infringement. Additionally, they also felt that people would mistakenly be convinced that those rights were granted by government. In other words, they actually felt the Bill of Rights could be dangerous to our natural rights.

In an effort to satisfy the concern of those who thought this way, the Ninth Amendment specifically states, “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” In other words, rights that are not listed do in fact exist and are also protected against government infringement. Furthermore, the Tenth Amendment declares that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This amendment strongly reinforces the idea that the federal government is only a government of specific and limited powers. If a power is not granted to the federal government in the Constitution, this amendment states in no uncertain terms that the authority lies with the states or with the people. This is also further proof that the commerce clause as well as the necessary and proper clause were not intended to offer arbitrary implied powers to the federal government. Once again, what would be the point of having so many specific limitations on authority if the actual intent was to allow government to simply legislate itself more power any time it pleased?

Let’s bring this history lesson back full circle. It should be evident by now that the point of the Second Amendment was not to grant us the right to bear arms, but “merely” to be an additional protection against the government possibly infringing that right. It is an attempt at guaranteeing that this right would be free from government tyranny. In essence, it states that if a lawmaker were so inclined to ignore the fact that there is no authority in Article I, Section 8 for the federal government to regulate the private ownership of guns, the Second Amendment acts as another barrier to such oppression. To this end it would be more proper to call the Bill of Rights the “Bill of Guarantees” since that is a more concise description of its function.

It’s Not Really About Guns

So back to my original assertion, I contend that arguing about the Second Amendment is truly an exercise in futility. No matter how one feels about the interpretation of the Second Amendment, whatever conclusion one draws does not trump the fact that nothing in Article I, Section 8 grants the federal government the authority to regulate the private ownership of guns. The Second Amendment could vanish and the federal government would still not have the authority to regulate the right to bear arms. Even if one is to argue that implied powers does give the federal government the authority to regulate the right to bear arms, the discussion must begin in Article I, Section 8. Therefore, Article I, Section 8 should be the core of the discussion about gun control. The Second Amendment can rightly be thought of as window dressing in most gun control discussions.

To that end, the conversation about Article I, Section 8 and the rightful authority of government is about far more than gun ownership. In order to satisfy the ideal in The Declaration of Independence that governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed, we must ensure that any new law or regulation considered by our government is based upon powers that government has been lawfully granted. Yes, this includes gun control but truly any regulation should be subject to this same scrutiny. In this country, we can not legally pass a law that is outside the authority granted to congress by the Constitution. To do so is the very definition of unconstitutional. So even if a popular majority supported a particular form of gun control, short of the passage of a new Amendment, enacting such a law would be not only unconstitutional, but a violation of the principles this country was founded upon.

To ignore Article I, Section 8 is to ignore the spirit of limited government. It is to completely disregard The Declaration of Independence. It is to look right past the idea that we are born with natural unalienable rights and that government is created in order to secure those rights. It turns the concept of the government as the people’s servant on its head and instead allows government the power to make itself the master. The bottom line is that if we can rationalize the willful violation of a core ideal of liberty in the name of gun control, we can rationalize oppressing any and all of our freedoms for any purpose that is politically expedient.

The Second Amendment is irrelevant. Except when it isn’t.

With all that being said, I will now contradict the premise of my own article. While the Second Amendment is technically redundant and I’ve just argued that it truly does not matter in the context of the discussion of the right to bear arms, I am certainly glad that those who were ratifying the Constitution had enough foresight to include it along with the rest of the Bill of Rights. It has become clearly evident that our federal government has willfully ignored the limitations of power imposed on it by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. The additional safeguards that the Bill of Rights put in place may have been the only thing standing in the way of further government overreach. However, as we now see, even those safeguards are in danger of being overrun. It seems that hardly anyone is familiar with the Ninth or Tenth Amendments and the First and Second Amendments have been methodically worked around by ambitious politicians and government bureaucrats. We must work harder to demand that our elected officials abide by the supreme law of the land in order to draw down government abuse of power. While the Bill of Rights and the Second Amendment are intended to guarantee that certain rights be free from government infringement, if we continue to ignore the limitations that Article I, Section 8 imposes on the federal government it is only a matter of time before overzealous politicians figure out a way to completely override our most precious freedoms. We must focus on the root of the problem and rein in the unjust and unconstitutional power of government or else the Second Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights will truly become irrelevant.

Is Windows 10 an Impending Disaster for Microsoft?

charlie-brownAs part of Microsoft’s Windows Insider Program, I’ve been testing the pre-release versions of Windows 10 for the last couple of months. I must say that for a Windows operating system, Windows 10 is actually pretty good. It’s no Mac OS X, but Microsoft seems to have learned its lesson from the Windows 8 debacle and has returned to a more traditional “start menu” interface, all while delivering some under-the-hood changes that should please the most techie among us. However, for as decent of an operating system Windows 10 may turn out to be, the way that Microsoft is delivering the upgrade may end up being an unmitigated disaster.

There are two worlds when it comes to Microsoft products. The ideal world where every Microsoft product works exactly as it should in perfect harmony with the hardware it runs on and the users who use it. And then there is the real world. I live in the real world every day. The real world where a variety of factors cause technology products to not work exactly as expected. Microsoft software is especially susceptible to a variety of issues. The plethora of hardware platforms that Windows runs on combined with the sheer number of PCs that have Windows installed virtually guarantee that large swaths of computing scenarios can not be thoroughly tested. In addition, the rampant spread of malware on Windows causes many unexpected problems. So it is almost impossible that a major operating system upgrade like Windows 10 will be glitch-free when released. This is par for the course when referencing a Microsoft Windows upgrade and normally it isn’t a disaster for Microsoft (save, for Windows Vista). The reality is that very few people have historically upgraded their Windows operating systems so the potential for widespread problems has been contained. However, this time is very different. Microsoft is giving away free upgrades of Windows 10 to users of Windows 7 and Windows 8 and making it available as a download through the Windows Update system.

The potential disaster in-waiting for Microsoft begins when millions of possibly unsuspecting Windows users launch a Windows update and end up installing Windows 10 without knowing what they are getting themselves into. The worst-case scenario is that millions of Windows computers become inoperable because the upgrade failed. Any number of reasons may be to blame such as malware, aging hardware, disk corruption, outdated drivers, or just unexplainable Windows “glitches.” Imagine for a moment that starting on July 29th, millions of Windows users suddenly can not use their computers. The tidal wave of support calls and complaints would be enough to bring any company to its knees, but even worse, the ensuing PR nightmare would be a bloodbath for Microsoft. A bloodbath that would likely go on for months and the stigma associated would linger for years.

But shouldn’t the lengthy testing phase with the Windows Insider Program have rooted out these problems already? Even with all the testing taking place, it is highly unlikely that the number of people participating is a fraction of a percent of the installed base of Windows users. Beyond that, the possible fatal flaw is that for all the testing done, it is doubtful that the upgrade process was tested as thoroughly as truly necessary for a rollout of this magnitude. I can’t imagine that many of the Windows Insider participants spent a lot of time backing up their old operating systems, upgrading to Windows 10, wiping it out, restoring their old operating systems, and upgrading to Windows 10 again. That’s really boring and time consuming stuff. So Microsoft is about to unleash an unprecedented (for Microsoft) major operating system upgrade to millions of real-world systems with a relatively minimal amount of testing. I’m sure there are many people at Microsoft who will have their fingers crossed on July 29th.

Even if the worst-case scenario doesn’t materialize, there are still possible PR nightmare storylines for Microsoft waiting in the wings. First, if even a small percentage of people have problems it could be blown out of proportion. Haters gonna hate and just a few incidents of bricked PCs might be enough to cause a “-gate” named uproar. Second, even if by some miracle there are relatively few technical glitches with the millions of Windows 10 upgrades that will take place starting on July 29th, many users may still be bewildered by the sudden change in appearance of their operating system. I know as well as anyone just how fickle computer users can be by the slightest change in their daily computing routines. Windows 10 is a big enough change from either Windows 7 or Windows 8 to make many users flip their lids. While Microsoft may have learned that Windows 8 was too big of a shift for most Windows users, it doesn’t appear they have learned that most Windows users don’t like any change, especially when that change in completely unexpected. It won’t take too many public complaints for this to turn into a snowball of bad PR for Microsoft.

Again, the danger is in the way Microsoft is positioning the Windows 10 upgrade to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. By putting it out in the user’s faces so prominently, I believe many users will inadvertently start the upgrade to Windows 10 without being fully cognizant of what they are doing. Microsoft makes it seem like upgrading to Windows 10 will simply be just another Windows update, and of course, we’ve all been repeatedly told that everyone should stay up to date! But the reality is that upgrading an operating system is not something you should go into with blinders on. Those who purposely upgrade to Windows 10 at least know the risks and possible consequences of a major operating system upgrade and are expecting the changes. But your mom probably doesn’t. And guess who she’s going to call when her icons don’t look the same as they did yesterday.

As a technology professional who will likely be inundated with calls if any of these nightmare scenarios takes place, I honestly hope this is not as big of a disaster as it possibly could be. I do not wish bad things to happen to anyone’s technology but as I’ve shown, the right circumstances are in place for an upcoming Win-pocalypse. It would be irresponsible for me not to share this information.

Did you ever have the feeling of impending doom? I sure do. Do you think July 29th will be a day that will live in infamy or am I over-thinking things?

FCC Declares Free Porn Illegal; Encryption as “Harmful”

Tom Wheeler, Migon Clyburn, Jessica RosenworcelIn a move that took many Internet experts by surprise, the FCC has declared that free pornography on the Internet violates federal law prohibiting obscene programming. In a statement today from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, he states that once the FCC took regulatory authority over the Internet as a Title II public utility, it was incumbent on the agency to standardize how it applies existing laws over all forms of transmission in order to protect the children and to avoid potential conflicts of interest.

“Now that the Internet is classified as a public utility, the same as public airwaves, we knew that we had to move to ensure that the same standards of decency we apply to public radio and television were also applied to the public Internet. The Internet is so ubiquitous that with today’s technology, it is trivial for children to view free pornography on their computers or mobile devices. It is not a stretch to say that the Internet reaches more youth today than radio or television ever has. To not prevent our children from obscene content would simply be irresponsible on our part. Additionally it could open the door for relaxing standards on the public airwaves. If we do not apply the same rules to content on the Internet, it is entirely possible that we would be forced to change the way we regulate the public airwaves and that would be completely unacceptable.”

The FCC chairman went on to say that they are not violating free speech because obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment. In addition, because people can pay for pornography on the Internet in much the same way that they can pay for it via cable or satellite TV, they are not infringing on people’s rights to view such content. He explained that the “paywall” system that exists on cable TV ensures that minors can not legally view pornography since they would not have access to credit cards to pay for it. “What works well for cable companies can also work well for Internet companies. We aren’t done investigating ways to apply the various models that exist in the cable TV industry to the Internet. For example, we may soon require companies like Netflix to charge extra for unrated shows like ‘Orange is the New Black’. A ‘pay-per-view’ system would ensure that minors could not watch shows that may be potentially indecent, even if their parents have already paid for the content. We feel confident that adults will not mind paying to re-watch an episode knowing they are protecting the youth of the nation from potentially offensive content.”

Also surprising was the method the FCC took to declare free pornography illegal. “We did not need to take a vote for this procedural action. Having already declared the Internet a public utility equivalent to the public airwaves, we already posses the authority to apply existing standards. In fact, if we did not take this action, we could be viewed as shirking our responsibility to the public. I am simply protecting the trust the public has placed in our agency and the federal government at large.”

Additionally Mr. Wheeler foreshadowed a definition of the controversial “harmful devices” clause in the FCC ruling on Internet Title II authority. “Given that the Internet is basically an unlicensed broadcast platform, we are considering how to apply part 15 of the FCC rules that state devices may not cause harmful interference and must accept any interference received. We are working with our partners at the NSA to understand how devices that employ strong encryption could potentially subvert these rules. We are reviewing their suggestions to require technology companies to give government agencies a way to decrypt data as a means to ensure that devices can not be used in harmful ways.”

When asked if the FCC would take further action on regulating content on the Internet, Wheeler stated that nothing within their authority was off the table. “When we declared our intention to protect Net Neutrality for legal content, we meant it. But that means that we must act to make clear what content is legal or illegal. With the help from our partners at the RIAA and MPAA, pirated music and movies are on our shortlist. With the upcoming elections in 2016, we also need to make sure that content of a political nature is properly scrutinized for compliance.”

Also asked about how the FCC would enforce existing rules over the Internet, the FCC chairman stated that he has already reached out to many of the same people who worked on the health insurance marketplace web site. “They did an amazing job creating that site and we feel confident they can do similar work designing a way to seek out and report obscene content online. We will have massive data centers built to store and catalog all records of reported obscene material. I give you my word that I will personally review all said material to ensure the proper working order of such a system. And to answer your next questions, we can simply increase existing USF fees and expand their application to Internet service providers to fund this system. Technically it’s neither a penalty nor a tax so we’re sure Internet users won’t mind.”

“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, 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 intertwined 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.

The Tablet that Desperately Wants You to Buy it

microsoft tablet virusesOver the holidays I chuckled a little bit every time I saw a commercial for the Microsoft Surface. It wasn’t hard to see the desperation in those commercials that were trying so hard to convince people to replace their MacBook with a Surface. What is pathetic is that these commercials were using the same old tried-and-failed tactics that Old World Technology companies have been using for years with little success. Now they are using them seemingly louder and more often, which only makes them all the more sad.

First, the commercials focus almost exclusively on hardware features. From the particular processor they use, to the removable keyboard, to the use of a stylus, the marketing team behind these campaigns still believe that people buy technology devices based on nothing but hardware specifications. That ship sailed way back in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone. However, it’s the only weapon that Old World Technology companies have in their holsters, so they’ll keep pulling the trigger even if it is out of bullets.

The reality is that the commercials don’t mention that these Windows-based devices run Windows 8 because you might as well say these tablets are infected with Ebola. The common perception of Windows 8 is not favorable (to put it mildly) and Microsoft is doing marketing gymnastics to avoid talking about Windows 8 while promoting Windows 8-based devices. No wonder Microsoft has now announced that Windows 10 will be free to Windows 7 and Windows 8 users.

It’s also interesting that Microsoft chooses to compare their devices to a MacBook laptop instead of an iPad tablet. The definition of a “laptop” is blurred, since for what a lot of people do, an iPad is more than enough. People can also buy keyboards for the iPad and make it much more like a traditional laptop. Styluses can also be added to an iPad. However, an iPad starts at $499 where a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 starts at $799. Then to get the keyboard that Microsoft raves so much about will set you back another $129. And don’t think that the keyboard is an “optional” accessory. Attempting to use the Surface Pro without a keyboard is like attempting to use, well, a laptop without a keyboard. So in reality the Surface Pro starts at just under $1000 So maybe now we see why Microsoft wants to position the Surface against the MacBook. The prices are comparable. It is a very tough sell to convince someone to buy $1000 Surface over a $499 iPad. The problem is that people don’t really want a tablet that can replace their laptop. They want a tablet. Just a tablet. A tablet that is simple to use, won’t break the bank, and that doesn’t require overly complex accessories.

Let’s talk a little more about the keyboard and stylus that Microsoft thinks are the best thing since sliced bread. As I mentioned above, for all the talk that the Surface is a tablet with an optional detachable keyboard, if you’ve ever used a Surface you know that the keyboard is virtually non-optional. The same thing goes for the stylus. The commercials say, “I can write with a pen.” The reality is, “I MUST use a pen.” Attempting to use the Surface without a stylus is an exercise in frustration. The reason is that for everything that Microsoft says about the Surface Pro being a modern tablet, its operating system is still rooted deeply in the traditional (i.e. Old World) Windows desktop model.

Does anyone remember the “Tablet PCs” that Bill Gates declared were “the future” back in the year 2000? Probably not, because if you were unfortunate enough to get suckered into purchasing one back then, you found out that the “Tablet PC” was really just an over-priced, overweight laptop that had a stylus. Sales of the so-called Tablet PCs were abysmal, eerily reminiscent of how the Microsoft Surface line has sold so far. The main problem then, as now, is that attempting to use an operating system designed for a keyboard and mouse with a touchscreen interface is unwieldy, cumbersome, and generally just plain awkward.

microsoft tablet windows 8Of course today Microsoft has Windows 8, which is an operating system designed for tablets and mobile devices so things should be better now, right? Unfortunately, Windows 8 has only made things worse for Microsoft. Windows 8 is a Frankenstein of an operating system, attempting to combine the old desktop paradigm with a new touchscreen interface. The problem for Microsoft is that people nearly universally hate the new Windows 8 touchscreen interface. So they fall back to the familiar desktop Windows interface which is really hard to use with a touchscreen. All the controls are too small to effectively use with a fingertip, so a stylus is not optional but a practical necessity. But then this introduces a new problem: using a tablet with a stylus in one hand is doubly awkward. So that lauded kickstand suddenly becomes not just a nice feature, but something that is absolutely required because you need to put the device down on a table to actually use it with a pen. Suddenly that tablet isn’t much of a tablet. Oh, and hopefully you don’t lose that Stylus because it costs $45 to replace. It’s also easy to lose, by the way, because unlike previous Tablet PCs, there is no place to slide the stylus into when you’re not using it.

If you’ve ever attempted to use a Surface as a true tablet, you quickly realize that it is just not the right shape to use effectively. It is simply too tall to use handily in portrait mode (i.e. “vertically”) and too wide to use comfortably in landscape mode (i.e. “horizontally”). It is quite apparent that the Surface line was designed as a laptop with a detachable keyboard. For some reason Microsoft thinks that people really want their tablets to be laptops. But it doesn’t take a genius to see that this is not true. There is a reason the iPad sales took off like a rocket. It was the right combination of computing device with no baggage required. Most people didn’t miss the keyboard. Virtually no one complained that there wasn’t a stylus. For those who did want keyboards and styluses, a plethora of third-party options are available, but the important point is that none of these add-ons are necessary. The iPad works just fine with nothing more than your fingers.

Then there are some issues of fit and polish. The fact that the Surface Pro is really just a traditional Windows PC stuffed into a very thin form factor brings along the issues of heat that affect all PCs. One of the first things people will notice about the Surface Pro as compared to other true tablets is the sound. No, not the audio from YouTube videos but rather the sound of a fan. Yes, the Surface Pro requires a fan to keep it from overheating. People will also notice if they hold the Surface is that it gets fairly hot, even with the fan. Not that these issues are truly that big of a deal, but it again just goes to show that the Surface is not truly a tablet, but rather a laptop with a detachable keyboard. A lot of tech companies fail to appreciate the fine little details that can make or break the success of a device. The sum total of all the fine little touches (or lack thereof) in a technology device can be the difference whether people enjoy using a device or begrudgingly tolerate it.

Finally, if all that weren’t enough, Windows still brings along the baggage that is malware. Conveniently Microsoft doesn’t mention that the Surface is still as susceptible to malware as any other Windows-based computer. All the detachable keyboards in the world can’t stop a Surface from getting infected with a virus that brings it to its knees. Its stylus can’t remove malware either. In my experience, malware is one of the most frustrating experiences a computer user can have. It is also one of the main motivations for people leaving the Windows platform over the last several years. If we completely ignore every detail I wrote about in the rest of the article, I can’t imagine that people would happily leave the virtually malware-free comfort of an Apple MacBook or iPad to go back to dealing with malware. This issue alone should be a deal-breaker. Until Microsoft can adequately address the issue of Malware, those who use Windows-based devices are setting themselves up for a world of hurt.

In all honesty, I think the Surface Pro is actually a very good device for some very particular uses. I have in fact recommended the Surface Pro to a clients as a best-of-breed device when they required a Windows-based laptop/tablet hybrid with a stylus. The main use case are doctors who want to be able to use a stylus when working with Windows-only practice management software. It is a little ironic that the price caused a few of my clients to decline my recommendation, but I digress. I believe Microsoft should stop attempting to sell the Surface as a replacement to the MacBook or even iPad because it just makes them look desperate. Plus if any unfortunate consumers actually believe Microsoft’s commercials, customer dissatisfaction will probably do more to hurt Microsoft in the long wrong.